Since the start of the pandemic we’ve had two lots of student polling from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – one focussed on first year undergraduates, the other on students in general, both in England.
The problem with both is it wasn’t clear if term and/or teaching had actually started in the previous two iterations – but this time the sample is current students from 22 October to 1 November 2021, which I think ought to pretty much cover the vast majority of term dates.
The surprising finding is that 41.7% of students (weighted for age, gender and regional bias) are saying that they’ve attended 0 hours of teaching in-person. We don’t know if that includes hours offered in-person where students have chosen not to go, and PGRs are in this mix, but still. It feels like far more than the mood music issued by the sector. What’s going on on the ground?
We don’t know yet if there is any impact on learning gain – but from a “value” or a “satisfaction” point of view, there’s a 12 percentage point difference in expressions of dissatisfaction with the academic experience between the “0 hours” club and everyone else – 20 percent and 8 percent respectively, with active satisfaction at 63 and 77 percent respectively. That’s easily enough to start to show up in the NSS.
Elsewhere in the data, things look pretty consistent from a few weeks ago. Vaccine uptake looks healthy – 85 percent have had both doses, up from 78 a few weeks ago, and all the usual compliance measures continue to suggest that students are doing at least as well if not better than the general public on compliance with testing and such forth.
Mental health remains a stubborn issue – whatever it is the sector thinks it’s doing isn’t working – or maybe it is and the results would have been catastrophically worse without the interventions. The “out of 10” score for anxiety in the general population stands at 4.1, it’s 4.6 for 16 to 29s in general and 5.1 for students.
It remains the case that the majority of mental health interventions across universities are aimed at individuals – but a collectively highly anxious student body might require different kinds of policy solutions. It’s also worth noting that there’s a correlation in the numbers between dissatisfaction with the academic experience and students self-reporting that their wellbeing and mental health has worsened since the start of term – and both of them have a relationship with that “0 hours” v “some hours” in-person thing.
Talking to SU officers over the past few weeks, what’s becoming clear is that while everyone might agree that a particular individual hour of teaching might work “better” online, it’s the overall patterns of students’ weeks that we lack understanding of.
It’s also the case that the certainty and confidence that senior types are expressing to the media about the format being delivered this term isn’t really underpinned with a proper understanding of what’s actually being delivered in reality within schools, faculties and departments – and in many cases there doesn’t seem to be much “in-year” curiosity or a plan to work out if there’s any impact on attainment, confidence or satisfaction until the end of the academic year.
Surely, in the middle of a giant teaching and learning experience, that would be much much too late to work it out? You might work at an outlier – please correct me in the comments if things are different where you are.