Students less satisfied amid pandemic – survey

Fewer university and college students are positive about their educational experience amid the coronavirus crisis, figures show.

The latest National Student Survey (NSS) found that less than half of students in the UK believe their university or college took steps to support their mental wellbeing during the pandemic.

The survey, which received 332,500 responses, found that overall some 75% agreed that they were satisfied with the quality of their course – down from 83% the previous year.

It found that the pandemic had revealed issues with the availability of learning resources, with around three quarters of students (74%) agreeing that they were able to access course-specific resources – down from 87% in 2020.

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Conducted between January and April, when teaching was virtual for many students, the survey found around 72% agreed that IT facilities had supported their learning well, a drop from 83% the previous year.

The survey, which gathers the views of mainly final-year undergraduates on the quality of their course, also asked specific questions about the pandemic.

Of the 184,964 students who responded to this part of the poll, 80% said their university or college had taken sufficient steps to protect their physical safety, such as protective equipment and social distancing.

But only 42% agreed that their university or college had taken sufficient steps to support their mental wellbeing during the pandemic.

The head of the Office for Students, which conducts the NSS on behalf of the UK funding and regulatory bodies in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, said this was a “concern”.

Chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: “Clearly, the circumstances last year were exceptional, but consideration should be given to what more can be done to ensure students are appropriately supported.

“As prospective and current students look to the autumn, it will be important that universities combine credible plans to restore face-to-face teaching with sensible contingency planning in the event that some restrictions need to continue.”

Universities minister Michelle Donelan added: “I recognise that the past 18 months have been uniquely difficult for students, and we have set out clear expectations that the quality and quantity of tuition should be maintained.

“We have also been clear that students should be receiving good quality mental health support, and universities have had access to up to £256 million to use towards this.

“Whilst there is still more to be done, our universities have shown real innovation and resilience in adapting to this pandemic, which is shown by the majority of students rating their overall experience of their courses positively.”