The Student Voice
How students are feeling and how to communicate with them
Assets from webinar held on 28 July 2021
Find out how you can deepen connections with your target student audience.
Watch the webinar recording:
How students are feeling and how to communicate with them
Mhairi Underwood & Paul Cernicharo-Terol
Please note the student videos will not play in the pdf slides, but can be seen in the recording.
Navigating Changing Options (NCO) research, Wave 4 (27th February – 14th March 2021)
This webinar draws from our student panel, onsite activity and our NCO student research survey. NCO is conducted by our in-house market researchers, and explores the needs of young people considering or currently undertaking higher education. It also tracks the impact of the pandemic. Access to the full report is free if you have an UPP, or if you attended this webinar on 28 July.
400+ Current undergraduate student participants
62% First year
25% Second year
13% Final year
We want to help all young people to make informed decisions about their futures so that they can reach their potential
Our student panel*
Cara Year 13
James Year 13
Alex Final Year Uni
How are students feeling?
The number of students experiencing poor mental health has more than doubled since the pandemic
48% rated their mental health "poor or very poor" (pre-pandemic 21%). 17% said "good or very good" (pre-pandemic 48%). Support networks are a really vital protective factor for mental wellbeing, sadly fewer than half of students felt they had a support network (49%), knew how to connect with coursemates (47%) or could cope with uncertainty (34%).
Top five factors impacting mental health:
- Uncertainty around education
- Lacking motivation
- Worrying about career prospects
- Loss of confidence and difficulty making big life decisions
- Lost opportunities due to the pandemic
On average, students have 5-6 key concerns, but nearly all are worried:
Students who are worried
% of students worried about motivation to study
% of students worried about future employability
% of first years worried about making friends
91% of students don't think the government is doing enough to support them
How well did students feel their universities responded to the pandemic?
Do students feel they are getting value for money?*
University experience (1 in 10)
Tuition (2 in 10)
*Purple is yes
However 70% said they felt their university was doing the best it could under the circumstances
Students generally felt universities were good at communicating information about assessments, self-isolating and social distancing, but only 38% felt universities were good at communicating how students could cope in lockdown.
Plenty to be proud of
Students were generally happy with the teaching and covid-19 risk management. Considering how rapidly the higher education sector had to adapt to the unknown, this is really impressive.
...and two areas to work on (connections matter)
Students frequently tell us that they would like more support from universities in building connections - both with other students and with future employers. Human connections will only become more important, as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt in people's social lives and in the job market.
73% were happy on their university course and 82% were glad they had attended university this year (but for those placed through Clearing this drops to 35% and 58% respectively).
Are you happy with how your university has approached...? (Yes)
Managing covid-19 risks
Teaching and learning
Providing course resources
Providing health & wellbeing support
Helping you connect with future employers
Helping you connect with other students
Distance learning for A-level students
Encourage discussion and create a positive perception of your university
43% Didn't have everything they needed to study from home
77% Were not confident their grades would be fair
90% Were worried Teacher Assessed Grades would negatively impact their future (their top concern was getting into university)
Applying to university in a pandemic
One in five 2021 entry respondents said covid-19 impacted their university choices
Students told us they had a lack of confidence in getting the grades they needed and that they were concerned about how future Covid-19 outbreaks would be handled by the universities they were considering.
12% of 2021 entry and 18% of 2022 entry respondents said covid-19 impacted their subject choices
2022 applicants are more likely to choose subjects based on their impact on society or future employability.
Applicants twice as concerned about employability since pandemic
59% 2021 entry and 67% 2022 entry are now concerned about employability. Before the pandemic hit, only 29% of 2021 entry and 34% of 2022 entry respondents were worried about employability.
27% said parents were encouraging them to stay closer to home
Qualitative comments suggested some respondents may choose universities closer to home (but not necessarily at home) so they could get back easily in case of future lockdowns.
The inability to visit universities in lockdown also posed problems:
“I can’t say for certain, but there is every chance that had I been able to visit universities, I would have picked different ones. At the moment I am trying to pick where to spend my next four years based on the ‘feel’ of different websites.”
“Being at the open days themselves was the most helpful part because that's what really made me feel that I would fit in at the university where I ended up going.”
Making decisions about courses and universities
“I really wish universities would tell me a less glamourised view of their university, one that seems more honest. In my opinion, those that didn't show certain aspects of their student life, such as student Q&As, also seemed to have something to hide and also kind of put me off applying there.”
57% of 2021 entry respondents felt they had enough information to select their firm and insurance choices
Students also wanted practical information about student finance, student employability outcomes, and accommodation. Taster lectures and student Q&As were also common requests.
“I've found researching universities to be quite frustrating, it's really difficult to keep track of what scholarships are on offer and where you can get bursaries.”
54% of respondents felt they had received all the information they needed about their course to make a decision
Only 48% of students felt they had heard enough from current students on the course.
The future for students
“I'm planning to move away closer to my university with private housing with a couple of my friends.”
“I really excited for the opportunity that [university] is going to bring, but also slightly terrified for the transition.”
Employability outcomes will be critical for incoming cohorts
We've seen growth in the number of discussions our postgraduate forums which may be connected to greater uncertainty in the job market. We ran a poll this year and the top reason given for considering a postgraduate course was "I want to make myself more employable because of the difficult job market." (26% of responses) Despite this, only two fifths of final year students had received information on PGT courses, graduate schemes or employment opportunities. PGR and professional/conversion courses is a particular knowledge gap for students.
“I think university next year will be pretty much back to normal? I'm not sure though, it's really an unknown for me...After I graduate, I'm going to continue my studies...my masters, and then hopefully a PhD, and even a research career, so I feel quite lucky in that way because I know a lot of other people don't know what's going to be happening because of covid.”
What students recommend
“The communications that I had with the university weren't brilliant, as a non-binary student, it was really difficult to know who to talk to about things like name and assigned gender on official documents and things like that, so I think that's something they could really improve on.”
Information - cover accommodation, societies, open days, taster lectures, research opportunities
Support - for people with disabilities (e.g. information about study support, accommodation access, how their application process works), for LGBT+ (consider the impact of language in the application process e.g. gender questions), for mental health and adjusting to university, with managing finances
Tours - campus, accommodation and local area
Connections - with students on the same course (e.g. through a Facebook group), mentor scheme, group chats or groups for networking before you arrive at university
Availability and communication - make it easy for applicants to contact the university and get a fast response, provide as much certainty as possible about how education will be delivered (e.g. online/in person)
Clear, up-to-date website - good user experience, accurate content, cover optional modules and research opportunities, messy websites and poor navigation put students off
Keep the positives from covid - more accessible online resources, flexibility to study from home/at a more convenient time
- Mental health - Provide information about mental health and wellbeing support
- Connect applicants with current students - offer student Q&As, connect them with students studying the same course
- Cover all aspects of student life - accommodation, social, money, careers, wellbeing, scholarships or funding opportunities
- Careers support - Be clear about employability outcomes, signpost students to services, help them to network and form connections
- Stay positive - we've had some lovely feedback from students about what universities have done well during covid, don't lose sight of that