Most students don’t expect any (more) face-to-face teaching this year

There’s a kind of grim, numb reality to the pile-up of polling and evidence on the student experience this pandemic year.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

It’s hard to find real positivity in any of the numbers that come out – yet the overall sense is that nobody had any choice for it to be the way it’s been, including students (who had nothing else to do), universities (who were boxed into sunnily selling what they were selling), regulators (who had to substitute actual regulation with issuing guidance and warnings) and ministers (who either didn’t want to, or couldn’t persuade the Treasury to do more than has been done).

HEPI’s latest round of YouthSight polling (undertaken between 11 and 16 March 2021) fits the frame. Student satisfaction with “the online learning your higher education institution has put in place to replace face-to-face learning” is now down to 54 per cent, down from 59 per cent last November – with over a quarter actively dissatisfied. HEPI puts a brave face on that by saying that “university staff have provided an online experience that most students are satisfied with”, but we don’t know about the overall experience nor whether students think some aspects have not been replaced.

Michelle Donelan always says that universities should have been “maintaining the quality and quantity of tuition” and that OfS has been “monitoring providers to ensure this is the case”. Are one in four students lying, or being selfish? Or are their expectations simply too high in a pandemic?

Active satisfaction with mental health services is running at 38 per cent, satisfaction with other support services is at 49 per cent, and 62 per cent of students say their mental health has deteriorated this year – a figure that climbs to 72 per cent for female respondents. In fact a full quarter of female respondents say their mental health is “much worse”, but all that DfE seems to have to address the issue is Student Space.

56 per cent of students say they aren’t expecting any (more) face to face teaching this year, which does raise real questions about why we might be insisting on students’ return to campus after Easter – particularly if they can’t do anything extra-curricular unless the sun’s out.

We also learn that 66% of students are in their their term time accommodation despite being asked to stay away – but given HESA reckons about one in five students lives in their own gaff and another fifth live with parents or “other”, that does in theory mean that less than half of those away from home have ignored advice and “moved” – and even then I’m not factoring in international students who’ve been here since December.

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