Australian universities are excelling on teaching quality but falling short on social experience

The university experience is changing. The introduction of technology, as well as growing career pressure and the nature of universities today,  is impacting how students interact socially. The consequences are being seen in declining mental health and growing anxiety issues for students.

Interdisciplinary interactions are low

Less than half of undergraduate students are interacting with students outside their study requirements. This is according to the recent QILT indicators for Australian institutions. 

As universities strive to be hubs of innovation,  interdisciplinary interaction is a key enabler for success.  The cross-contamination of ideas is essential for preparing students for future careers. Interdisciplinary thinking and communication will solve the wickedly complex issues facing our society.

Many students don't feel they 'belong' to the community

Just over half of students feel a sense of belonging to their university. Some other findings from the 2018 QILT indicators showed that:

  • Students are more satisfied when they start (first year) than in their later years
  • Students studying on campus are having a more positive experience than those studying externally
  • Older students (mature age)  are less engaged in the university community
  • Overall international students have lower satisfaction
  • The top reason that students consider leaving university is health or stress


Are postgraduates having a worse experience?

Postgraduate coursework students have a more inconsistent experience compared to undergraduates. For most institutions, the university experience was designed around a typical undergraduate. Hence we can see (above) cohorts who do not fall into this persona feel excluded.

Typically postgraduate students are also working (or studying intensively), so their hours and habits are different to undergraduate students. They have less time, but it doesn’t diminish the value of a great social experience. 

With QILT, we can see the same institutions dominating the top and bottom rankings across all categories. Read more about QILT 2018 findings and categories here. With postgraduates, it is more variable. Different institutions excel and fall short of different components of experience for postgraduates.

For example, Southern Cross University and Notre Dame University have some of the lowest postgraduate scores for learning resources but score in the top 5 in other categories. Monash has one of the highest scores for Learning Resources, but scores close to average for all other categories.

It seems that postgraduate experience and expectations are less understood and students are more likely to have an inconsistent experience at their institution.

On-campus or online for better student experience?

The online environment available for learning begs the question of whether universities should continue to focus on encouraging students to campus, or more on providing online courses and lectures. 

We think there is a tipping point, we are not at that point yet, but there will come a time where the online environment erodes the benefits of learning. The on-campus environment is intellectually stimulating and helps students push out of a comfort zone and make new connections. Too much technology gives a comfortable excuse to not push those boundaries.

Institutions should provide both, and not forget that the university experience is more than coursework and lectures. This means that students must be compelled enough to make the journey to campus, and not repelled enough (i.e. travel time, parking, boredom) to avoid it. 
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Dr Sam Hall

Dr Sam Hall

Sam is the founder of Spaces Alive. She's an advocate for re-imaging our cities and buildings to prepare for the future of work and study.