Top 6 takeaways from the UK Engagement Survey

The AdvanceHE UK Engagement Survey (UKES) is an attempt to offer a different perspective on the student experience – a picture concerned with seeing students more as learners than consumers.

To understand the UKES, and the peculiar focus on where students are spending their time rather than how they feel about it you have to reach back into the learning and teaching fundamentalism that characterised some of AdvanceHE’s predecessor bodies. It’s not a population survey like the NSS, though there’s a respectable sample size of just under 30,000 students from 31 institutions. If you weren’t involved your university probably didn’t sign up – they pay to be involved and then get the results for their own students to talk about in committee meetings.

So it’s not weighted in anyway, you just have to take findings as a general expression of the student mood rather than as a representative mood. AdvanceHE could well decided to do a weighted version if they wanted, but they haven’t. So here we are:

1. A little more conversation, but less interaction

Actually chatting to academic staff is where students spend the smallest proportion of their time. Be this about careers, ideas outside of the course, or students academic performance – students just aren’t nattering to their tutors. This makes sense in terms of what your average student will spend time doing – clearly reading stuff and going to lectures will feature more highly – but it is an aspect of academic study that students greatly value.

2. Black students engage more

In a surprising finding, Black students are more likely to report being very or slightly engaged with their course than students from other ethnic backgrounds. This goes against findings from other surveys and measure that show Black students as being less engaged, attaining less, and being less satisfied. AdvanceHE says ”

These data points therefore highlight a complex picture and arguably a counter-intuitive one. Black students often engage more but are more likely to attain lower-level degrees and have a less satisfactory experience, whereas the theory behind UKES and wider engagement measurement is based on high engagement being a strong predictor for high levels of

3. Full marks for citizenship

Because we’ve got a time series here, we can see what students are feeling more engaged with over time. This year sees a bunch of skills I would loosely categorise as having a wider applicability in civic life seeing their engagement improve by at lease five percentage points, these being:

  • “being an informed and active citizen” (57%–62%)
  • “developing personal values” (62%–67%)
  • “understanding others” (62%–70%)
  • “exploring complex real-world problems” (65%–70%)

These are students’ perceptions of their own engagement, so perhaps point to a growing interest in wider political events.

4. Foundation and first

A bunch of research literature suggest that students zone out in their second year (their “sophomore slump”) and engage more in the first year and final year. This isn’t what we see in the UKES – here the gap is between the foundation year (high engagement) and first year (lower engagement). Without seeing the numbers involved on foundation courses it is difficult to say how much this finding means (maybe when I get the data tables…) but it is interesting nonetheless

5.  Study break

Students are reporting (to UKES) less time spend on both timetabled and independent study, down from a 2016 peak. This doesn’t quite gel with other findings – it is generally accepted that independent study is falling but that timetabled study is rising. Again, this could just be a strange sample (I do wish they would weight it), but there could well be something else going here.

6. Sports continuation

Backing up some solid Wonkhe research in this area, the survey finds that participation in a student society or sports club is positively correlated with continuing at university. Students from Chinese and Black ethnic backgrounds are more likely to participate in such society, whereas Black students are also more likely to have caring and employment responsibilities.

Read more:

The UK Engagement Survey (UKES) 2019

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