From education to employment

Students say universities must learn from the pandemic to improve high education

A Jisc survey of 38,917 university students in the last academic year finds that students need better support with digital skills, highlights the digital divide, and shares how universities can learn from the past year to give all students a superior education experience.

The need for digital skills has accelerated dramatically as a result of the pandemic, for both learning and future employment.

With record numbers engaging in Jisc’s annual student survey, just over half (51%) agreed they received support for learning online or away from campus, 41% had guidance about the digital skills needed for their course, and only 26% had an assessment of their digital skills and training needs. Only 9% reported they did not need any support at all.

The report also raises the digital divide as a critical issue. 63% of students encountered problems with poor wifi connections, 30% had problems accessing online platforms and services, and 24% faced problems with mobile data costs. Results show the continuing importance of collaboration between higher education, government, and industry, to break down the digital divide and provide high-quality learning experiences to all students.

Liam Earney, managing director, higher education, Jisc, writes in the foreword:

“Technology plays a key role in the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, which aims to improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic. A positive collaboration between education, telecommunications, and government is crucial so that no one is digitally excluded as the sector heads towards a blended and flexible future.”

He continues:

“It is my hope that, as the dust begins to settle, universities take stock. Now is the time to learn from our experiences of what worked and what didn’t and give all students the best technologically enhanced university experience possible.”

There are positives to be found. At the start of 2020, staff across the UK made an inspiring start; transitioning teaching online, improving digital skills, and working hard to provide students with the best learning experience possible. The hard work paid off, with 67% of students surveyed rating the overall quality of online and digital learning highly, from ‘good’ through to ‘best imaginable’.  68% felt their online learning environment was safe and secure, and more than half felt online learning materials were well designed (53%).

However, this year, only 33% of students felt their concerns were being heard, and 35% agreed they were given the chance to be involved in decisions about online learning. The annual Jisc report serves as an opportunity to address feedback and issues raised by students, in order to provide them with the best possible learning experience. A vital opportunity as the sector heads towards a more blended approach.

Earney concludes: “The hard work and efforts of staff during the pandemic demonstrates a commitment to providing students with the best learning experience possible. Of course, delivering world-class online and blended learning at scale will require substantial resources, and we know that universities are still dealing with huge challenges and changes – but by listening to our students and staff, we can identify the positive changes seen in universities and global research. If we capitalise on these, the benefits stand to be immeasurable.”

Read the full Jisc report: Student digital experience insights survey 2020/21

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