More students than ever are realising their ambitions to study at postgraduate level. But we still don’t know enough about the quality of their students experience or whether they have successful outcomes.
The Office for Students is committed to ensuring that all students in England have a high-quality experience. A key way to understand that is to hear from students themselves. That is why we are now embarking on a programme to develop options for a future feedback survey for postgraduate taught students.
A quantity of surveys
Since 2005, the National Student Survey has given undergraduates the chance to feed back publicly on their academic experience – to highlight what is working well and what is not. Their insights have helped institutions to improve their teaching. But students in taught postgraduate courses do not currently have the same opportunity, so their voice is not well represented when it comes to strategic thinking in HE or in wider policy development.
There are some existing sources of information. The Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) run by AdvanceHE is well established but, by virtue of being focused mainly on teaching quality enhancement, only tells part of the story. As a regulator we also need our own evidence base, with a wider and more comprehensive range of data – telling us what students think about a range of issues, such as whether they are satisfied with the quality of teaching, with their wider experience, and their perceptions of value for money.
We are beginning with a piece of research. In 2019, we will run a sample survey, inviting all universities and colleges in England to participate by sending it to their postgraduate taught students. This will achieve two things: provide a high-level picture of PGT students’ views about their experience and also to test the questions that we use.
This first stage work will not be published in a way that identifies responses at provider level, and will not be used by the OfS or policymakers to make any judgements about individual courses and providers. Student anonymity will of course be protected.
We are hoping to inform wider feasibility testing for a future larger-scale census survey on the views of PGT students. Of course, this is not a simple prospect. We do not underestimate the complexity of developing a survey that can effectively capture the views of students as diverse as the PGT student body. We will need to test different options – in terms of timing, methodology and content – so that our approach is robust. At the same time we must also be alert to survey fatigue and the need to minimise the administrative burdens.
Later this autumn we will invite postgraduate course providers to take part in this research – and we strongly encourage them to do so. If you represent a university or college, this is a chance not only to gain some valuable information about the views of your students, but to play a role in the development of future approaches to gaining feedback on postgraduate students’ views.