High percentage of taught postgraduate students positive about learning and teaching, HEA survey shows

Results from the Higher Education Academy’s Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) 2013 show that taught postgraduates in the UK can expect a high quality experience, with 76% of students positive about the learning and teaching on their course. 

High percentage of taught postgraduate students positive about learning and teaching, HEA survey shows

With the largest response rate since the survey began in 2009 – 58,679 students from 89 institutions took part – and with a very similar profile to the national postgraduate taught population, PTES 2013 is the most representative view available of taught postgraduates in the UK. 

The survey uses eight scales to ask about different aspects of experience. Results show that the most positive perceptions are shown in the scales relating to learning resources, staff, skills and personal development.

The scale for assessment and feedback receives the least positive ratings but they also show strong improvement over the last four years for home students. However the same trend cannot be seen for overseas students.

Students who have disclosed a disability reported a significantly worse experience across most scales, particularly around learning resources: 14% were not satisfied with the quality of learning materials, compared to 8% of those who declared no disability.

The survey also asks about why students chose their course, finding that reputation was the top reason for full-time students but flexibility of delivery was top for part-time students.

Topline findings reveal:

Quality of teaching and learning and staff: Around four in five students responded positively to items about teaching and learning, however there is slightly less agreement that there is sufficient contact time to support effective learning (65% of students agree) or that students are happy with the teaching support received (72% of students agree), perhaps reflecting the greater implied demand on teaching resources these statements reflect. The vast majority, 93%, stated that the quality of teaching was generally or consistently good. Students who took the programme for personal interest had a more positive perception of teaching and staff, perhaps reflecting greater personal engagement with their programme.

Assessment and feedback: All scores have increased from 2012 and the increase has been strongest for the items with the lowest levels of agreement, on promptness and timeliness of feedback, 64% of students agreeing with these items. Scores varied a great deal across disciplines, with Education significantly above average and Engineering and Technology significantly below.

Career and professional development: 77.5% of students indicated that their future employment prospects were better as a result of their programme. Students taking postgraduate study in order to progress their career, or in disciplines strongly linked with vocations, were more likely to be positive about being better prepared for employment.

Disability: Students who disclosed a disability reported a significantly worse experience across most scales, particularly around learning resources. Among types of disability, students stating they have a social/​communication impairment such as Asperger’s had the most significantly negative perceptions of their experience, most particularly around skills and career development. This suggests that there is still some way to go for institutions in meeting the needs of all students.

Motivations: Reputation of institution (52%) and reputation in chosen subject area (43%) were the top reasons for full-time students to choose the course they did, while flexibility of delivery was the most common reason given by part-time students. Reputation is becoming a more common reason for full-time students to choose institution, and is particularly important for overseas students.

Funding: There have been significant increases in self-funding this year, caused by a fall in other sources of funding. For example, in Physical Science there has been a 9% increase in students stating they are self-funding from 2012.

Professor Stephanie Marshall, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Academy, comments:

It is encouraging that the results of the survey show that a high percentage of taught postgraduate students are positive about the learning and teaching on their course, and that scores for assessment and feedback are gradually improving.

But there is clearly still work to do to ensure that all students can access an excellent learning experience. The HEA works in partnership with HEIs and others in the sector to enable equitable participation in higher education for all students, moving towards inclusive policies around areas such as curriculum development. We have developed extensive resources to support the sector in these areas.

The HEA’s postgraduate experience surveys provide a unique service to the sector. I am delighted to see that the numbers of institutions and students taking part is continuing to grow. The sector is increasingly focused on the needs of postgraduate students and the HEA’s surveys help to provide vital information that helps higher education institutions to enhance their provision.”

Like the HEA’s Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES), PTES is designed for enhancement, aiming to inform discussion about improvements to the taught postgraduate experience. Institutional-level results are confidential, but comparing results can help HEIs and subject areas understand more fully where they need to focus. The HEA provides participants with benchmarking groups to enable comparison, while keeping individual results confidential.

The call for PTES 2014 opens on 26 September.