Each batch of results from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Student COVID-19 Insights Survey (SCIS) gets us a bit closer to working out what’s actually going on on campus this year – although there’s still plenty more questions than answers.
Earlier this academic year, for example, we saw a link between academic satisfaction and hours of in-person teaching attended, and a link between academic satisfaction and mental health – this time we complete the triangle.
(As a reminder we’re looking at students in England, this time survey completed 19 to 29 November 2021, all home domiciled students, and results weighted for age, gender and regional bias)
A remarkable half of all students polled self-reported “very high” anxiety (a score of 9 or 10 out of 10), rising to almost six in ten (58 percent) for those who attended 0 hours of in-person teaching, learning or placement in the previous week.
Meanwhile 13 percent of students reported low life satisfaction (a score of 4 or below out of 10), increasing to 19 percent for those attending 0 hours. This group also reported higher levels of loneliness.
I’ve argued before that there’s a tendency in our sector to think of mental health issues as individual, non academic, student support services’ problem and something that has to be endured or survived to get the best grades.
From here, mental health issues – especially anxiety – look instead to be collective, influenced by academic practice (both positively and negatively), everyone’s problem and anyway – being a student and learning should be fun not some ordeal to be survived.
I think anyone with any level of responsibility for the teaching and learning experience in higher education should be asking themselves right now “how can my decisions or practice reduce anxiety in my students”. Better still, ask students not themselves.
Elsewhere in the survey things are pretty steady. Double vaccination status is now running at 70 percent, with 12 percent on dose one – this has been ticking up steadily as students become eligible for the second jab all term. A pretty steady 8 percent are still refusing.
There’s still a close link between improvement or decline in mental health since the start of term and academic satisfaction, we’re still on around 1 in 10 saying they’re dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the learning experience (with over three quarters of them citing delivery as a reason) and we’re still on about a quarter attending 0 hours of in-person anything in the previous seven days.
ONS has tried to get at who these 0 percenters are this time – but not very successfully. The figures show that of those who reported that their university study “mainly involved class-based learning for example learning based in lecture halls, classrooms or lab facilities on campus”, only 9 percent attended 0 hours. But we still don’t know how much of that is “it was on and I didn’t go” versus “it wasn’t offered”. And the categorisation is circular – when someone answers “what does your university study mainly involve” is a student thinking about what it’s supposed to involve, or actually involves?
Finally, there’s a tendency in the public facing position of the sector to suggest that “online” delivery is a brucie bonus rather than a replacement for the core teaching and learning experience. Here, when asked if their university was making materials available for students to access through a website or email always or most of the time, 66 percent saying yes feels low. But almost one in five saying they have been doing “group working” online always or most of the time feels high, and an obvious candidate for isolation and mental health cause.
40 percent of students say there’s online live scheduled lectures or “lessons” always or most of the time – maybe they’re being offered hyflex. And 31 percent of students said that they’re usually getting pre-recorded lectures or equivalent – which I continue to fear is a teaching method that requires more work, but has less value ascribed to it by students.