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Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) 2021 Student Experience Survey

The 2021 Student Experience Survey (SES) has just been released by the Quality Indicators in Learning and Teaching agency (QILT). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, with the survey results showing only slight increases on last year. The ‘Quality of Entire Educational Experience’ indicator for 2021 was 73% up from 69% in 2020. 

Scores for undergraduates in Skills Development (79%), Teaching Quality (79%) and Student Support (73%) have experienced very little variation in student ratings from 2019 to 2021. On the other hand, ratings of Learner Engagement (49%) and Learning Resources (80%) both declined substantially in 2020, and although they have increased in 2021, they have not made a full recovery to pre-COVID levels.  

The student experience by level and stage of study, 2019-2021 (% positive rating)

Skills development Learner engagement Teaching quality Student support Learning resources Quality of entire experience
2019 2020 2021 2019 2020 2021 2019 2020 2021 2019 2020 2021 2019 2020 2021 2019 2020 2021
Undergraduate 81 78 79 60 44 49 81 78 79 74 74 73 84 76 80 78 69 73
Postgraduate coursework 81 78 79 54 42 42 81 78 80 75 74 74 83 73 77 76 69 73

Source: 2021 SES National Report This link takes you away from the ADCET page (Table 2, abridged)

Students with disability

Overall ratings for students with disability, compared to those without, showed lower positive ratings across the five elements – Skills Development (76%), Learner Engagement (45%), Teaching Quality (77%), Student Support (71%) and Learning Resources (77%).

The undergraduate student experience by demographic group, 2019-2021 (% positive rating)

Skills development Learner engagement Teaching quality Student support Learning resources Quality of entire experience
2019 2020 2021 2019 2020 2021 2019 2020 2021 2019 2020 2021 2019 2020 2021 2019 2020 2021
Disability reported 78 75 76 56 39 45 79 76 77 75 73 71 81 73 77 76 66 70
No disability 82 78 80 60 45 49 81 78 80 74 74 73 84 76 80 79 69 73

Source: 2021 SES National Report This link takes you away from the ADCET page (Table 3, abridged)

Areas of concern

Of particular concern are the low ratings on Learning Engagement which dropped from 60% in 2019, down to 44% in 2020 and slightly bouncing back in 2021 to 49% for undergraduate students. For postgraduate students Learning Engagement was 54% in 2019 and has remained at 42% in 2019 and 2020.

Learner Engagement for most equity groups was lower than the overall score. Indigenous students and low socioeconomic students were 46%, regional and remote students at 45% and students with disability at 45%.

Learner Engagement has been the focus area most negatively impacted by the shift to online learning as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. The report drills down to ratings for student participation in online or face-to-face discussion which has increased slightly since 2019.

However, sense of belonging to the institution, working with other students as part of their study and interacting with students outside their study requirements, are still 10 percentage points lower than 2019. There was no additional information about equity groups in this analysis.

Student support questions on the survey ask about administrative services and systems; frontline staff; access to careers and learning advisors; and access to support services such as counsellors, legal advisors and health services. Disability support is not specifically named nor is there more nuanced analysis for demographic groups such as students with disability.

Additional questions

The 2020 survey also asked three additional questions around freedom of expression including ‘I am free from discrimination, harm or hatred’. Overall, the rating for this question by undergraduate students was 81% and 80% for postgraduate students. 

Alarmingly though it was 74% for Indigenous students and 75% for students with disability.  The representation of these groups in the Survey is very closely matched with those of the target population for both undergraduate and postgraduate coursework students. It is troubling that around 25% of Indigenous students and students with disability are experiencing such high levels of discrimination within their institutions.

Finally, 19% of undergraduate students considered leaving higher education in 2021, with 50% of those respondents citing ‘health or stress’ out of the 100 options available. In previous economic downturns, the student attrition rate has declined, possibly because as job opportunities diminish students may be more inclined to continue with study. The change in reasons from 2020 to 2021 may reflect a possible onset of fatigue in the second year of the pandemic, as well as the fact that economies were re-opening around Australia and employment opportunities outside of study were once again more readily available.

Next steps - what can you do in your organisation?

Talk to senior leaders about these results. Leveraging the SES results to ensure your institution is inclusive of people with disability is one way to work towards improving student experience. Not just for students with disability but all students.

No doubt institutions are reviewing their results and considering ways to address some of the areas of concern such as learning engagement, student support, retention, safety and discrimination.

Some useful resources available from ADCET can assist with issues raised in the SES and be implemented within education providers through strategy, teaching and learning and professional development programs. These include:

  • Strategy: does your organisation have an up-to-date Disability Inclusion Action Plan? Find out more about how to write or revise a plan that can assist your organisation to review, renew or create a DIAP here.
  • Training and Awareness for staff: ADCET has developed eLearning programs that are free to individuals to undertake online. You can also request the SCORM files and embed into your own learning management system. This includes an Introduction to Disability Awareness suitable for all staff and Universal Design for Learning in tertiary education
  • Inclusive Teaching resources: In addition to the UDL eLearning ADCET also has website resources on inclusive teaching practices including additional UDL resources, working with students with specific disabilities, and producing accessible content. There are also specific guidelines to support students in online learning environments who are Blind or Vision impaired, and Deaf or Hard of Hearing, and recommended learning strategies for specific disabilities.
  • Support for students with disability: resources for Disability Practitioners and any staff who support students with disability is also online including understanding your obligations, Reasonable Adjustments and preventing discrimination.

(August 2022)