Survey shows non-Irish students and postgraduate STEM students have highest levels of engagement

The Irish Survey of Student Engagement held its latest data collection in 2018, and saw a 7% increase in response rate from students, with 38,371 students from twenty seven higher education institutions participating in the survey, and is representative of all courses of study and demographics.

Universities all across Ireland, in addition to the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), encourage students to take part in the annual survey, sometimes even offering incentives to do so. The survey explores the amount of time and effort that students put into their studies and other educationally purposeful activities, and, also, how effectively institutions facilitate, encourage and promote student engagement in activities that are linked to learning.

The same set of questions has been used for this round of the survey as for the previous two years, facilitating longitudinal study of the received data. It has sixty seven questions in ten sets: Higher Order Learning, Collaborative Learning; Supportive Environment; Reflective and Integrative Learning; Student-Faculty Interaction; Quantitative Reasoning; Effective Teaching Practices; Learning Strategies; Quality of Interactions and Other Items. This covers a broad range of inquiry, from specific outcomes of course content to social and recreational engagement of the pupil through collaborative learning. Interaction with academic staff is also studied.

This year the ISSE has sought greater engagement from the students not only in answering the survey questions but also to analyze the data, with consideration of local impacts being prioritized. The National Student Engagement Programme is the wide-ranging programme by the Ministry of Education & Skills under the remit of which the ISSE falls.

The results for student-faculty engagement have further improved in 2018, according to the Irish Survey of Student Engagement, and could have stemmed from greater focus on specific aspects of the student experience. There is greater variation in results within institutions than between institutions, most likely due to the wide range of discourse in every institution. Students of Social Sciences, Journalism and Information and of Health and Welfare generate the highest indicator scores for Higher Order Learning, Reflective and Integrative Learning and for Learning Strategies, hinting at good quality of discourse in these fields. An interesting find is that Education students report lowest scores for Supportive Environment.

A notable finding of the survey is that non-Irish students report most frequent experience of activities related to eight engagement indicators. Even as the proportion of non-Irish students in Irish institutions is low, this may be indicative of an interesting psychological dynamic of their greater participation.

The survey found that female students report less engagement with coursework relating to Quantitative Reasoning than their male counterparts, which is a change from last year’s results. Indicator scores for male students were higher for Student-Faculty Interaction and Quality of Interactions, and this dynamic is worth further exploration.

An unusual result presented by the survey is that indicator scores for Higher Order Learning, Quantitative Reasoning and Supportive Environment are higher for universities than for other institution-types, whereas scores for Collaborative Learning, Effective Teaching Practices and for Quality of Interactions are higher for Institutes of Technology than for other institution-types. This indicates a divide between the strengths of both kinds of institutions that warrants further attention.

Postgraduate STEM students are found to have higher levels of engagement on most fronts. For instance, they generate the highest indicator scores for Quantitative Reasoning of any cohort. Also, postgraduate STEM students and STEM students in universities report the most frequent experience of learning through methods such as application, analysis, judgment and synthesis. Students’ reported experiences of Higher Order Learning, Reflective and Integrative Learning, and Quantitative Reasoning highest for postgraduate taught students.

The scores for Learning Strategies are significantly higher for students on postgraduate taught programmes compared to undergraduate cohorts, whereas the Collaborative Learning score is highest for final year students.

Over 90% of postgraduate taught students believe that their experience contributed to personal development in acquiring at least `some’ work-related knowledge and skills. This survey aims to identify areas of potential improvement in learning environments and helps bring to light deficiencies in student supports.

The Irish Survey of Student Engagement has been carried out every year since 2013 to collect information on student engagement in their respective educational institutions, in both academic and related activities. ISSE is one of the data-generating tools for the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 and its implementation is funded by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), in conjunction with related educational bodies.

This survey provides valuable data on the manner and degree of engagement by the participating pupils with their learning environments and how institutions set up curriculums and other tools of student engagement. This further aids formulation of institutional and national level educational policies by recognising key focus areas by identifying areas of potential improvement in learning environments and helping to understand and resolve deficiencies in student supports.