#ALevelResultsDay: Back to the future… What’s next for university students?
It has been a tough 18 months for university students and lecturers alike, however, with the lessons that we’ve learned, there is hope yet for a bright future ahead post-pandemic.
With three-quarters of students wanting more out-of-hours support, there is a general optimism around improving the university experience for the better, and evidence to show that university courses, both undergraduate and postgraduate, are still very much in demand.
The availability of extra online support has clearly had a positive impact on those students who have had access and could be the solution to helping more students as we move into the era of the much-discussed ‘new normal’.
Praise the positives – ‘it’s not all been bad…’
Like with every sector, when the pandemic struck, worry reverberated throughout the higher education system and there was a massive prediction of low enrollment numbers for universities. Fortunately, this never materialised and seemed to show that higher education was still of great value to students despite the changing circumstances.
Professor Marilyn Holness OBE, Director of Student Engagement, at the University of Roehampton has recently commented that:
“Students have reported lots of issues that have affected their studies, but generally they are not showing signs of disillusionment or wanting to withdraw from their course, in fact, they are working hard to complete and progress.
“Students we speak to are keen to return to their studies in September so they can experience university life in its fullest, being on campus, studying with their peers, in person classes, socialising, joining societies and embracing all that is on offer to them which has not been available due to the pandemic for the past 16 months.”
Reflecting the hopeful and positive attitudes that Marilyn refers to, research has shown that over half (61%) of students were likely to choose the same university again, whilst only 16% would not, reflecting that although the pandemic has caused many a problem, the university experience is still one that is highly sought after.
Help on the horizon
Responding to the calls for positive change from students, there is definite help on the horizon, with a key focus on mental health and financial support. Generally, there has been more awareness surrounding student welfare, in understanding the extent of digital poverty, and the help that is needed which many have felt has been a long time coming.
However, various government initiatives such as the extra £50million funding for universities and the scrapping of traditional exams to offer fairer and more covid compliant alternatives have shown a commitment to this awareness from the very top and change for the better. However, more still needs to be done for student support, with the majority of students feeling that online course materials, resources, and study support will need a vast overhaul to become more readily available if their university is to evolve. Studiosity recently conducted a piece of research that found that 63% of students would use a 24/7 online study support service if it were made available to them and 74% express positive feelings towards this type of service – 11% up from the data gathered in 2019.
It is clear to see that this would be one of the most feasible and effective ways of providing quality support to these students, especially as research has also found 24/7 online support to remain the most effective way of combating study stress prevention issues. This was consistent with findings in 2019 so now, more than ever, is the prime opportunity to embrace the tech support available to make positive changes to the UK’s university experience.
What does the future hold?
In many aspects, the future seems pretty uncertain, however with the peak of the pandemic having dipped and the job market starting to recover with initiatives like the government kickstart scheme, the outlook for future employment doesn’t seem as bleak as it once was.
Our research discovered that despite 77% of undergraduates thinking it will be harder to find a job after graduation, 48% are optimistic for long-term career prospects, inferring that there is still a drive from graduates to pursue finding employment after university, despite the inevitable road bumps the pandemic has provided.
At the University of Roehampton, reports have also shown that students have been keen to develop additional leadership skills through taking up cross university leadership roles (volunteering and paid) and are increasingly participating in engagement and career activities like the Chancellor’s Career Award, to upskill themselves so they develop ‘an edge’ over their competitors.
Meanwhile, writing recently for Hepi, Professor Emma McCoy, Interim Vice-Provost (Education and Student Experience) at Imperial College London, commented that by:
“Building on the innovations and lessons of the pandemic, the ‘new normal’ is also an opportunity to reassess our educational offer and drive forward progress in a way that benefits learners of all stages and backgrounds.”
With a focus on upskill and reskill, now is an opportune time for universities to embrace hybrid learning (physically and virtually) to offer round-the-clock support whilst adapting to the ‘new normal’.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances that the pandemic has created, it has the potential to be a catalyst for positive change in university student education by embracing the ‘new normal’ and using the advantages of online learning.
Whilst the pandemic will leave some deep scars in the education sector, there is light at the end of the tunnel with restrictions lifting and opportunities to make education support more accessible through blended learning.
Isabelle Bristow, Managing Director of Studiosity