Reality check: A report on university applicants’ attitudes and perceptions

In July, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), a think tank devoted to higher education based in the United Kingdom, released a report on university applicants’ attitudes and perceptions. The report provides insight into the anticipation and excitement enrolling students experience as well as their perceptions about what they will experience at university.

Although the report is UK based and their higher education system is different from ours, it echoes findings from an OLT-funded research project conducted across South Australian universities a few years ago. View a copy of the full report on the Australian study and resources generated by the project.

While these studies were different, both found students’ expectations differed from their experiences. Respondents from both sides of the globe struggle with independent learning; anticipate more time in lectures and believe they will have more access to staff. The UK students were asked whether a university quality rating (gold, silver and bronze) was important with 27% of students responding a gold rating was very important to them and 45% of respondents indicating it was somewhat important. These ratings are not yet under discussion for introduction at Australian institutions but institutional quality is an important issue.

According to Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) data, based on 2015 and 2016 student experience surveys, Flinders scores above other SA universities and the national average across all the student experience scores (overall quality of educational experience; teaching quality; learner engagement; learning resources; student support; skills development).Although still above average on the graduate satisfaction scores (overall satisfaction; teaching scale and skills scale) it is not leading its two state competitors across these and the graduate employment scores are also variable, when compared with the national average and state competitors. According to the Reality check report there is a link between quality indicators and student expectations. The report says:

The degree to which prior expectations are met goes a long way to explaining students’ perceptions of value for money, how much they think they are learning and their satisfaction with their course (p4).

The study conducted in Australia aimed ‘to inform students of the realities of university life to better facilitate the transition from secondary to tertiary education’ (p. 12). Both studies therefore acknowledge the importance of reducing the gap between expectations and experience of university study. Both also illustrate the support required by students new to university as they adjust to the different academic requirements and emotional, geographical, financial and personal changes.

Academic staff are crucial to providing this support and helping students adjust. There are a range of resources available to staff wishing to know more about supporting first year students.

You can explore the First Year Support Strategies (FYSS) portal or contact Ann Luzeckyj to find out about workshops and other materials.

Contributed by Dr. Ann Luzeckyj
Senior Lecturer in Higher Education: First Year
Undergraduate Teaching Adviser – CILT

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