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UK survey finds high levels of student engagement, but study time is declining

Students are engaging more with staff and undergraduates who commute to university have high levels of involvement in campus life, a new survey has found. 

Advance HE‘s fourth annual UK Engagement Survey (UKES) shows positive trends in student engagement on many measures, but also reveals that taught and independent study time is declining. 

Nearly eight out of ten of the 34,000 undergraduates who completed the survey feel their course engages them in critical thinking activity.

Engagement in staff-student partnerships has also increased year-on-year. This includes working with staff to evaluate teaching and learning, discussing academic performance with staff and discussing ideas with staff outside the course.

Findings on commuter students - the first time the category has been included in the survey - will allay fears that living away from campus can have a negative impact on involvement.

Despite the time spent travelling, these students are more likely than others to spend time in both taught and independent study, and to take part in extra-curricular activities. Linked to this, levels of engagement and skills development also tend to be higher among students who commute, “underlining the high levels of commitment that many of these students often display”.

Similarly, the findings on students from low participation neighbourhoods show they are more likely to engage and develop their skills than other students. For example, 68 per cent of this cohort has developed innovation and creativity compared to 63 per cent of students from high participation backgrounds.

Black students tend to engage very well in their learning, while students of Mixed ethnicity show lower levels of engagement, the survey found.

“These consistently differing experiences within BME groups, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, are arguably not fully understood at sector level and hence there appears to be a need for dedicated research to unpick these issues further,” the report said.

The survey found that there has been a significant decline generally in the proportion of students spending 11 hours or more at each type of study in a typical week. The figure for taught study fell from 55 per cent in 2016 to 50 per cent in 2018, and from 52 per cent to 47 per cent for independent study.

The report links the drop to the increase in time undergraduates spend working for pay, volunteering or caring.

“There is evidence from the data that time spent on these activities can impact directly on the time available for study,” it said.

The decline in independent study broadly matches the findings in the recent Student Academic Experience Survey (SAES) by Advance HE and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI). However, the taught hours figures differ from SAES, where contact time was found to be consistent over the past few years.

Jonathan Neves, Advance HE’s head of business intelligence and surveys, said “UKES provides an excellent opportunity to assess how students are spending their time and how this is benefitting them. There is evidence from the increased levels of engagement that participating institutions are focusing resources on some of the areas that benefit students the most.”

 

 

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