More than one in three students in higher education say they have seriously considered quitting their courses due to financial pressures, personal reasons or other factors, a new survey shows.
The survey, which asks learners annually about their experiences in education, generally indicates that the student experience is improving following the pandemic with higher rates of feedback on learning, interactions with lecturers and satisfaction with courses.
However, the findings on pressures facing learners are echoed by student representatives who say the rising cost of living, long commutes and high rents are undermining the college experience.
The findings come as some universities say they have recorded an increase in dropout rates over the past two years.
A total of almost 37 per cent of students said they have seriously considered quitting their course, rising to 42 per cent among postgraduate research students.
Among the reasons given included financial, personal or family reasons, health or employment.
On a more positive level, a large majority (83 per cent) would go to the same institution they attended if they had their time over, while large numbers (74 per cent) believe their experience contributed to their knowledge, skills and personal development “quite a bit” or “very much” in thinking critically and analytically.
However, there is evidence of limited interaction with lecturers. Fewer than half (43 per cent) of students believed teaching staff provided prompt and detailed feedback on tests or assessments, while smaller numbers again (21 per cent) said they regularly discussed course topics, ideas, or concepts with academic staff outside scheduled class, tutorials, labs or studios.
Notwithstanding this, just over half of students (54 per cent) rated the overall quality of interactions at their higher education institution as high, while only a small proportion (2 per cent) rated this as low.
More students (59 per cent) believed that their institution placed enough emphasis on providing support to help students succeed academically, while a similar proportion believed their experience helped them “quite a bit” or “very much” in acquiring job or work-related knowledge and skills.
There was a particular improvement in sentiment among postgraduate students following the pandemic, which restricted the student experience on campus.
The survey records an increase in positive feedback about taking part in a placement or internship (+6 per cent), attending (+7 per cent) and presenting (+9 per cent) at an academic research conference. There is also a 9 per cent increase in students reporting having someone in their university they can talk to about their day-to-day problems.
The overall findings are based on two surveys carried out among students. In the first, almost 40,000 first-year and final-year undergraduate students, as well as students on taught postgraduate programmes, took part in the survey across 21 higher education institutions in February and March 2023. This represents a national response rate of 26 per cent.
A similar survey for postgraduate research students also took place with just over 4,000 students across 17 institutions, representing a national response rate of 38 per cent.
Commenting on the results, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said the 10th year of the survey has resulted in almost 375,000 students giving their feedback.
“We now have a robust high-quality evidence base to inform quality enhancement discussions and outcomes in our higher education institutions,” he said.
“It is really positive to see that student experiences have improved since Covid-19 and we should continue to build on this to ensure higher education in Ireland offers the most high quality of standards.”
He said StudentSurvey.ie has become “one of the largest tools at our disposal to understand the experiences and view of students”.
“It is a real testament to the great efforts of students and staff within those institutions that such an evidence base exists,” he added.