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COVID-19: A national comparison of students’ satisfaction with the response of their education institution

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Data from a recent global survey by i-graduate adds to the enormous body of data about COVID-19. i-graduate’s COVID-19 Response Barometer surveyed over 24,000 students in eleven countries and provides valuable insight into education institutions’ response to COVID-19 from the perspective of current students.

This article, part of a series drawing on the survey data, was originally conceived to explore to what extent government policy has impacted students’ satisfaction with their institution’s response to COVID-19. However, it quickly became apparent that the situation is too complex to draw any meaningful conclusions on this.

National comparisons in themselves, however, provide some food for thought.

Governmental responses to COVID-19

There is no doubt that government responses to COVID-19 vary by country. Figure 1 below shows a Government Stringency Index developed as part of the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker[1] for the five key countries covered in i-graduate’s COVID-19 Response Barometer from January to August 2020. The Index is a composite measure based on nine response indicators including school closures, workplace closures, and travel bans, with a higher score indicating a stricter government response (i.e. 100 = strictest response).

Fig 1: COVID-19: Government Response Stringency Index

[1] https://www.bsg.ox.ac.uk/research/research-projects/coronavirus-government-response-tracker

Hale, Thomas, Noam Angrist, Emily Cameron-Blake, Laura Hallas, Beatriz Kira, Saptarshi Majumdar, Anna Petherick, Toby Phillips, Helen Tatlow, Samuel Webster (2020). Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, Blavatnik School of Government

Researchers are clear that ‘this index simply records the strictness of government policies . . . [and] does not measure or imply the appropriateness or effectiveness of a country’s response’. One possible measure of policy success – albeit a very blunt one as there are a myriad of other factors at play – is to look at the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita. While data is only as good as the testing and reporting in each country, for the five countries included in the chart above, there is a wide range in both total confirmed cases of COVID-19 per million people – from 283 in New Zealand and 287 in Malaysia, to 4,867 in the UK – and in total deaths attributed to COVID-19 per million people – from four in Malaysia and five in New Zealand to 611 in the UK.[2]

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Education institution responses to COVID-19

Responses of education institutions to COVID-19 also vary considerably, to at least some extent based on the situation where they are located. A useful measure of the success – or otherwise – of institutions’ responses to COVID-19 is satisfaction amongst their students; this was measured in i-graduate’s COVID-19 Response Barometer survey. While sample composition must be kept in mind and results are most useful at an institutional level, we can draw some interesting indicative country comparisons between the five key countries covered in the survey.

In terms of overall satisfaction with their institution’s response to COVID-19, students at German institutions were most likely to be satisfied, with an impressive 85% of students satisfied or very satisfied. This was notably above the global score of 70%.

Fig 2: Satisfaction overall with their institution’s response to COVID-19

[1] Data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), from dataset available at https://github.com/owid/covid-19-data/tree/master/public/data. Data as of 28 August 2020 (to match i-graduate survey data analysed for this report).

Students at German institutions were also most likely to be satisfied with communication from their institution in response to COVID-19, with almost nine out of ten students (87%) indicating that they were satisfied or very satisfied. This compared to around eight out of ten students satisfied or very satisfied with communication from institutions in Malaysia (83%), Australia (80%) and New Zealand (79%), and seven out of ten (70%) in the UK.

Fig 3: Satisfaction with communication from their institution in response to COVID-19

At a global level, institutions were most likely to have done a good job of providing their students with advice on physical health (88% satisfied or very satisfied), wellbeing support (81%) and travel restrictions (79%). Students were least likely to have been satisfied with information on financial support (58%). This followed a relatively similar pattern across the different countries although students in Germany stand out again as having had notably higher satisfaction than students in other countries with information on teaching/learning elements: online learning resources, organisation of online lectures/tutorials and organisation of tests/exams.

Table 1: Satisfaction with different information from their institution in response to COVID-19 - % satisfied or very satisfied

 

Global

Australia

Germany

Malaysia

NZ

UK

Physical health advice

88%

92%

91%

93%

89%

83%

Wellbeing support

81%

85%

82%

87%

82%

76%

Travel restrictions

79%

81%

79%

80%

82%

74%

Online learning resources

72%

74%

85%

78%

78%

61%

Organisation of online lectures/ tutorials

69%

71%

85%

76%

73%

57%

Organisation of tests/exams

69%

67%

76%

70%

68%

60%

Financial support

58%

60%

53%

50%

67%

55%

 

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As may be expected given the speed at which many institutions had to adapt to online delivery, satisfaction with the online learning experience at their institution was slightly lower across the board – around two-thirds (68%) of students globally satisfied or very satisfied. In line with satisfaction overall and with communication, this was highest amongst students at German institutions (80%).

Fig 4: Satisfaction overall with the online learning experience at their institution

Globally, around seven out of ten students were satisfied or very satisfied with lectures and tutorials (71%), online learning resources and library facilities (69%) and tests and exams (67%); satisfaction levels were slightly lower with assignments and group work (62%). There was, however, considerable variation across countries, as shown in Table 2 below.

Table 2: Satisfaction with aspects of their online learning experience - % satisfied or very satisfied

 

Global

Australia

Germany

Malaysia

NZ

UK

Lectures and tutorials

71%

71%

84%

78%

76%

60%

Online learning resources and library facilities

69%

73%

70%

72%

76%

62%

Tests and exams

67%

65%

74%

70%

69%

58%

Assignments and group work

62%

64%

65%

67%

69%

50%

 

Given the disruption and uncertainty faced by students this year, it is not surprising that, at a global level, concern amongst students about continuing further studies, completing their course or graduating was high. What is interesting, though, is the difference in level of concern by country. In New Zealand, the majority of students (54%) reported being not concerned/not at all concerned, while at the other end of the spectrum in the UK, the vast majority (76%) indicated that they were concerned/very concerned.

Fig 5: Level of concern about continuing further studies, completing their course or graduating

What concerns students most about COVID-19

No doubt due to personal circumstances, key concerns about COVID-19 amongst students were split between physical and mental health risks, impact on their future career, completing their studies on time and funding their studies. Understanding how key concerns vary for different groups of students within each country (or even better, within each institution) – for example, by year or level of study or student status – will help institutions best support students.

Table 3: Students’ top concern about COVID-19

 

Global

Australia

Germany

Malaysia

NZ

UK

Physical and mental health risks

26%

23%

22%

28%

27%

26%

Impact on my future career

23%

15%

18%

23%

24%

29%

Completing my studies on time

20%

25%

19%

15%

20%

19%

Funding my studies

14%

20%

20%

19%

9%

9%

Social isolation

11%

9%

13%

9%

12%

12%

Travel restrictions

7%

8%

10%

6%

8%

5%

 

Concluding remarks

Although analysis of survey data is unable to provide proof, it seems extremely likely that government policy and the related COVID-19 situation in a country impacts on students’ satisfaction with their education institution’s response to the pandemic. Variation in satisfaction levels between institutions in the same country, however, shows that the student experience is still ultimately within the control of the institution. COVID-19 will continue to affect our daily lives for some time and its impact on the new academic year in some parts of the world is already evident. With various universities across the globe introducing lockdowns for students, the move to online learning and travel and visa restrictions impacting the mobility of international students, implications for the wider sector are yet to be fully seen. It is therefore imperative that each institution does the best job possible to understand the needs and experiences of its students based on current external circumstances and provides an appropriate and effective response to the problems presented to support students through this difficult time.

 

About the COVID-19 Response Barometer

The COVID-19 Response Barometer was developed and administered by global research and benchmarking organisation i-graduate. Participation in the survey was offered free of charge. Survey fieldwork began on 7 May 2020 and is still ongoing at a small number of institutions globally. Analysis in this article is based on data as of 28 August 2020, comprising 24,009 responses from students at 41 institutions around the world. Numbers of institutions and responses from the five countries featured in this article are as follows: UK – 7 institutions, 6,804 responses; New Zealand – 7 institutions, 5,272 responses; Australia – 6 institutions, 2,724 responses; Malaysia – 5 institutions, 1,227 responses; Germany – 4 institutions, 1,059 responses. To allow institutions to continue to measure and track student satisfaction with their response to COVID-19, a number of questions from the COVID-19 Response Barometer will be included in i-graduate’s 2020 Student Barometer and International Student Barometer surveys. For more information on any of these surveys, please contact info@i-graduate.org.

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