StudentSurvey.ie 2021 data confirm that the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of students in higher education was significant and far-reaching
Results suggest an overall lower perception of engagement by respondents in 2021 compared to previous year
The results of this year’s Irish Survey of Student Engagement (Suirbhé na hÉireann ar Rannpháirtíocht na Mac Léinn) and Irish Survey of Student Engagement for Postgraduate Research Students (Suirbhé na hÉireann ar Rannpháirtíocht na Mac Léinn do Mhic Léinn Taighde Iarchéime) confirm that COVID-19 substantially impacted on the lives of students in higher education.
The findings are published today 3 November in two in-depth reports launched by Senator Annie Hoey and are available on the StudentSurvey.ie website.
Almost 44,000 first and final year undergraduate students and students on taught postgraduate programmes across 25 higher education institutions took part in StudentSurvey.ie between February and March 2021. The overall response rate of the survey was 28.4% of the total survey population.
The percentage of students agreeing with each statement in the survey is lower than 2020 in almost every single area – indicating the major impact that COVID-19 had on students during the 2020-2021 academic year. The results suggest that there was a lower perception of engagement by respondents this year compared to the 2019-2020 academic year.
Download the results
Read and download the StudentSurvey.ie National Report 2021 HERE.
Read and download the PGR StudentSurvey.ie National Report 2021 HERE.
Some highlighted results from StudentSurvey.ie 2021
The impact of COVID-19 on first year undergrads
The results also confirm that the undergraduate experience of first year students was particularly negatively affected by the impact of COVID-19. First year undergraduate students who entered higher education in the 2020-2021 academic year returned scores that were statistically significantly lower than the baseline first year undergraduate respondents (2017-2018, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years combined) for nearly all areas of the survey.
- 47.0% of first year undergraduate students indicated that the quality of their interactions with other students was excellent, or close to excellent, in 2021.
The average from surveys in 2018-2020 was 80.3%.
- 37.2% of first year undergraduate students indicated that the quality of their interactions with academic staff was excellent, or close to excellent, in 2021.
The average from surveys in 2018-2020 was 64.1%.
- 26.4% of first year undergraduate students prepared for exams by discussing or working through course material with other students often or very often in 2021.
The average from surveys in 2018-2020 was 44.5%.
- 12.2% of first year undergraduate students believed that their institution emphasised social opportunities very much in 2021.
The average from surveys in 2018-2020 was 23.2%.
- 33.7% of first year undergraduate students discussed course topics, ideas, or concepts with academic staff outside of class in 2021.
The average from surveys in 2018-2020 was 48.8%.
Postgraduate Research (PGR) Students
The second survey, PGR StudentSurvey.ie, was directed at postgraduate research students, who are surveyed every two years. A total of 3,541 postgraduate research students, including Masters by Research and PhD students, across 21 higher education institutions, responded to PGR StudentSurvey.ie, representing a response rate of 34%. Fieldwork for this survey also took place between February and March 2021.
The postgraduate research students’ responses to questions specifically addressing the impact of COVID-19 on their experience point to significant differences between the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences (AHSS) and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) groups in relation to funding, on-campus facilities, and a suitable study environment at home. In relation to questions on the development opportunities available during the pandemic, the results indicate that STEM postgraduate researchers have been able to avail of opportunities more readily than AHSS postgraduate researchers, which may mean that they are better prepared for their careers after their postgraduate research. However, as these results relate to one year only, caution should be exercised in interpreting the results.
Suggestions from national and international research that female postgraduate research students have been more affected than male postgraduate research students by the COVID-19 pandemic were supported. For instance, 52% of male respondents to PGR StudentSurvey.ie indicated they had submitted a paper for publication in an academic journal or book, while the equivalent result for female respondents was 46.7%. Looking to consideration of withdrawal from their programme, 17.5% of female respondents had considered withdrawing due to personal or family reasons compared to 13.8% of male respondents. The results point to the possibility of a gendered aspect to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could more negatively affect the career progression of female postgraduate research students.
Other results from PGR StudentSurvey.ie 2021 included:
- 68.2% of respondents had a suitable working space.
- 86.3% of respondents had regular contact with their supervisor(s), appropriate for their needs.
- 47.0% of respondents had frequent opportunities to discuss their research with other research students.
- 69.4% of respondents had attended an academic research conference.
- 80.4% of respondents felt that their research degree programme is worthwhile.
Some of the questions raised in the PGR StudentSurvey.ie National Report 2021, such as those related to gender differences, may not be resolvable until a more long-term comparison can be made with PGR StudentSurvey.ie data in 2023 (when the next fieldwork takes place).
What are StudentSurvey.ie and PGR StudentSurvey.ie?
StudentSurvey.ie and PGR StudentSurvey.ie ask students directly about their experiences of higher education. StudentSurvey.ie runs annually and PGR StudentSurvey.ie runs on a biennial survey fieldwork cycle. Student feedback provides institutions with valuable information to identify good practice that enhances the experiences of students and to prompt awareness of, and action on, any particular issues or challenges that affect students. The results of the surveys are intended to bring benefits to students and their institutions, and to inform national policy. StudentSurvey.ie is co-sponsored by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).
The enormous impact brought about by the COVID-19 global crisis has been far-reaching. Now more than ever, feedback from this national survey is needed from students navigating this landscape.