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Study environment under pressure after tough year

The social study environment is suffering, and students are struggling to stay interested in academics. This is one of the major conclusions of last autumn's AU-wide study environment survey, which also indicates that the students are generally very satisfied with their degree programmes and the academic study environment at Aarhus University. However, these results should be interpreted in the light of the fact that students took the survey before the latest shutdown.

2021.03.02 | Sinne B. Jakobsen

Photo: Ida Jensen (AU Photo)


The study environment has fallen on hard times during the previous year; students and teachers have had two long periods of online teaching and a closed campus. You can also see this in the recently published study environment survey, which ran from October to mid-December last year. The results show a decrease in satisfaction with the social study environment-from 83% in 2018 to 78% in the autumn of 2020. Pro-rector Berit Eika called the development worrying.

"The study environment survey landed in the middle of the coronavirus, and even though we can’t know for sure how this affects the results, there is no doubt that the social study environment has been under strong pressure since last spring – and still it is, now that another semester is taking place online. So it’s to be feared that we might see an bigger decline in satisfaction if the students were asked today. At the same time, we must remember that the number may also be due to other things in addition to the coronavirus, and it will be very important to uncover this when we discuss the results at both AU level and locally, "she said.

At the same time, it is positive that nine out of ten students indicate that they strongly agree or agree that the overall quality of their education is high. This is good news, according to Berit Eika. However, she is looking very much forward to the university opening its doors to in-person classes.

"It’s reassuring that the vast majority of students were still very satisfied with the quality of their degree programmes in the autumn, despite the coronavirus situation," she said. "However, we hear from the students that they’re feeling a lot more pressure than ever before – also academically. The shutdown has been rough for everyone, even though both teaching staff and students have made a fantastic effort, which we also confirmed in our own survey of online teaching and exams. This is a huge achievement that I would like to thank everyone for once again. It gives me a belief that we will continue to be able to offer our students degree programmes of high academic quality, even though we don’t yet know when the shutdown will end, unfortunately.”

Many students are still dealing with stress and loneliness

As in previous surveys, the students were asked about stress and loneliness. The study shows that it’s still a widespread problem among students.

“It’s crystal clear that stress and loneliness are areas where there is still a need for continuous and highly focused action,” said Berit Eika. “Stress is also a general problem in society that can be caused by more than just a degree programme, and that’s not something we as a university can solve on our own. Our obligation is to create the best conditions to encourage the students’ well-being, and we will continue to expand and strengthen the initiatives that we’ve already started and look into whether there’s anything we can do differently.”

Berit Eika encourages students that are having a difficult time to seek help, so they aren’t alone with their problems. At AU, students can contact the Student Counsellors' Office, the Student Counselling Service and the university chaplains. They can also visit styrkditstudieliv.au.dk to find tips and advice.

Students want more feedback

The survey also shows that many students want more useful feedback from their teachers. Berit Eika stated that there’s definitely a focus on feedback in the individual degree programmes.  

“Feedback is an important part of the students’ learning process since it is both motivating and inspiring,” she said. “There’s a major effort being made among teachers to make room for feedback and explore new ways to integrate it in the courses – also digitally. However, direct feedback from teachers can and should never stand alone, since there are many other types of feedback that are just as rewarding and academically enriching for the students. For example, peer feedback, where the students give feedback to each other and thereby develop their own academic insight.”

Covid-19 has affected student motivation

While most of the themes in the study environment survey recur each year to measure the students’ well-being and satisfaction, Covid-19 was a special theme in this year’s survey.

Among other things, the students were asked how Covid-19 has affected their engagement in their studies. To this question, 78% of the students responded that Covid-19 has removed part of the joy of being a student, while 63% of the students acknowledge that they had a hard time during the spring lockdown. In both cases the numbers are larger for students enrolled in Bachelor’s degree programmes – 82 and 68% respectively, which worries Berit Eika.

“The numbers show us that even though both students and teachers have done their best during the previous year, feeling motivated and engaged in your studies is closely linked with actually meeting on campus – which is sadly still waiting in the wings. Covid-19 is compromising students’ opportunities to get involved in the social aspects of university life, and the survey suggests that it’s especially concerning for a large group of new students. So they will also be our first priority when we’re allowed to open up again. Until then I want to encourage all students to make use of their study groups and cultivate online communities – both academic and social,” she said.

What happens next?

The study environment survey constitutes an important part of AU’s ongoing work to ensure the quality of each degree programme and to develop the academic and social study environment at a university level and at a local level.

The individual faculties, departments and local boards of studies will now discuss the results of the survey, since the challenges vary from faculty to faculty and from degree programme to degree programme. The survey is performed every other year; the next one will take place in autumn 2021.

Key conclusions selected from the survey

High level of academic satisfaction

The survey shows that 90% of the students are satisfied with the quality of their degree programme compared to 91% in 2018.

It also shows that 90% of the students believe that their degree programme has a good academic environment compared to 91% in 2018.

Drop in social study environment satisfaction

The study shows that 78% of the students are satisfied with the social study environment at their degree programmes compared to 83% in 2018.

Stress and loneliness is widespread among the students

Every fifth student (20%) often or always feels stressed while 14% of the students often or always feel lonely. In 2018 the numbers were 19% and 12% respectively.

Still more need for feedback

The survey shows that 49% of the students believe that their teachers do a good job of providing useful feedback. In 2018, the percentage was 52%.

Covid-19 has affected student motivation

The survey shows that 78% of the students acknowledge that Covid-19 has removed some of the joy of being a student. This applies to 82% of the Bachelor’s degree students, 76% of the Master’s degree students and 68% of the professional Bachelor's degree students.

The spring lockdown was difficult for the students

The survey shows that 63% of the students had a hard time during the spring lockdown. This applies to 68% of the Bachelor’s degree students, 59% of the professional Bachelor’s degree students and 57% of the Master’s degree students.

Read more at: https://studerende.au.dk/en/study-environment-survey/  (the results will be available in English during March)

About the survey

  • Responses were collected during autumn 2020 via an electronic questionnaire-based survey sent out to all students at Aarhus University.
  • In total 11,133 (or 33.4%) of the students answered the survey, which was integrated in the Ministry of Higher Education and Science’s national survey for the first time
  • Aarhus University has surveyed the study environment in 2007, 2011 and 2014 and 2017
  • The survey is a central part of AU’s work with ensuring the quality of the degree programmes and developing the study environment.
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