The value of internal surveys in tackling PGT student experience

PGT student surveys

A recent Wonkhe article caught the eyes of the evasys team. Written by Jim Dickinson, Associate Editor at Wonkhe, the opinion piece praised the student coverage of Ireland’s StudentSurvey.ie, while lamenting a similar lack of coverage in the UK.

In particular, Jim points out that the National Student Survey (NSS) still does not cater to postgraduate taught (PGT) or postgraduate research (PGR) students, despite two pilots by the Office for Students.  While the results of these pilots are now available thanks to a Freedom of Information request, and can be found through a link in Jim’s article ‘Postgrad pilot NSS results finally revealed’, there are still no definitive plans for a national PGT survey at NSS level.

Dr Helena Lim evasys head of opportunities

What other options are there? We asked our in-house academic, Dr Helena Lim, Head of Opportunities, for her thoughts on what the alternative might be:

Jim Dickinson’s piece raises a crucial question: how can we best capture the postgraduate taught (PGT) student experience in the UK? While a national survey holds some merit, a focus on robust internal surveys, alongside existing efforts, offers a more nuanced and actionable approach.

Internal Surveys: Filling the Gap

Module and programme evaluations conducted directly by universities can provide a wealth of data often missing from national surveys. University managed surveys delve deeper into specific aspects of the student experience, like course organisation, feedback quality, and subject-specific concerns. This granular detail allows universities to pinpoint areas for improvement within individual programmes or modules, leading to more targeted interventions. Internal surveys allow for instantaneous feedback and the ability to close the feedback loop whilst students are still at university, and the opportunity to aggregate and segment student insights across multiple organisational, academic and student characteristics.

Actionable Insights, not National Benchmarks

National surveys, by their nature, offer a high-level overview. While valuable for gauging overall trends, they may not translate effectively to specific programmes, and certainly not to individual units of teaching. Internal surveys, on the other hand, provide data directly relevant to the institution and its students. This fosters a culture of continuous improvement, allowing universities to act upon student feedback in a timely and targeted manner.

Collaboration, not Competition

Universities already conduct PGT (PTES) and PGR (PRES) surveys through Advance HE. Strengthening and expanding these existing efforts, perhaps in collaboration with the Office for Students (OfS), could be a more efficient approach. This would build upon established frameworks while minimising additional burden on universities and on students.

Transparency, not Top-Down Mandates

Transparency from and for OfS is indeed crucial. However, a top-down, mandatory national survey may not be the answer. Universities are already accountable to students and stakeholders. By focusing on robust internal surveys, shared best practices, and collaboration with the OfS, the sector can ensure valuable data is collected and acted upon, ultimately benefiting both universities and prospective students.

In Conclusion

While a national PGT survey has its place, it shouldn’t come at the expense of robust internal evaluations. By leveraging existing frameworks, fostering collaboration, and empowering universities to gather and act upon detailed student feedback, we can achieve a more dynamic and ultimately more valuable approach to understanding the PGT student experience.

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The value of internal surveys in tackling PGT student experience