Chapter 5 : Reflections
Co - Sponsors Reflection
Higher Education Authority
Irish Universities Association
Technological Higher Education Association
Union of Students in Ireland
StudentSurvey.ie has become embedded in Irish higher education since its national pilot in 2013. The collaborative national partnership has been a central factor in that success with strategic direction being provided by student representatives, participating institutions and their representative bodies, and relevant state agencies.
From 2013 to 2023, almost 375,000 students have participated in StudentSurvey.ie, generating a robust high-quality evidence base to inform quality enhancement discussions and outcomes. In that time, StudentSurvey.ie has become one of the largest tools the higher education sector has 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.
It is worth remembering that prior to StudentSurvey.ie, several external studies noted the (then) lack of consistent student feedback systems across the sector as a whole. Various stakeholders, including students, advocated for a mechanism to understand the student learning experience, subsequently coming together to design the new survey. Since then, new partnerships have emerged on campuses between students and students’ unions, academic and professional staff, and senior leadership to ensure the roll-out of the survey has been a huge success. Undoubtedly, this cooperation has had an impact beyond the survey itself, providing new space for dialogue and encouraged student-centred approaches to improving the higher education experience.
Many participating institutions demonstrate clear actions resulting from interrogation and analysis of data from their students. All participants seek to share results of their analysis with students and staff but there remains variation in the perceived effectiveness of these efforts. Various working groups have sought to support institutions with resources and examples of analysis, communication and promotion activities, and sharing of effective practices.
The Practitioners’ Forum events, which began in 2019, moved online during the pandemic, and returned to face to face format in 2022, have provided an invaluable space for sharing of practice, addressing challenges, and imagining new ways to obtain greater value from the data. A series of research activities were commissioned to analyse the qualitative data generated by the survey in order to explore in greater detail what students were telling us about their higher education experiences. These signal the rich vein of information available within the associated free text data and present students’ experiences and perceptions in persuasive forms.
In 2022, co-sponsors and the national Steering Group embarked on a period of strategic reflection with the aim of ensuring that a structured examination was undertaken to consider what was working well, what could be improved, and how to ensure that the rationale for, and the importance of, the survey were appreciated and understood by all stakeholders.
Ten years is a long time in higher education, and with the enactment of new legislation for the Higher Education Authority in 2022, the opportunity could not be missed to undertake this reflective exercise.
One of the significant elements of the new HEA Act is the inclusion of Part 4 , committing the role of the HEA to student engagement, enshrining activity to date in their statutory responsibilities.
For the first time since its introduction in 2013, the student surveys are now directly referenced in Irish legislation. The inclusion of the survey in the Act is a testament to the success of the survey initiative to date but also to the renewed commitment to the need for students to have their say, for their opinions to be acted upon, and for them to play their part as members of a collaborative higher education learning community.
Crucially, the legislation recognises the partnership that created the survey as core to sustaining it. Enhancing stakeholder engagement and increasing student partnership across the survey lifecycle will be an important element of future success.
In addition to consideration by various working groups, two external exploration and consultation exercises have been commissioned to inform considerations. A period of strategic reflection by the co-sponsors and the national Steering Committee have examined how best to move forward with the survey and we have decided not to run fieldwork in 2024. This decision recognises feedback received to date and seeks to place the student voice at the centre of a process to revisit and review survey questions, target groups and operational structures that were first designed a decade ago. It also acknowledges the significant changes that have taken place in the Irish higher education landscape since 2013.
It is absolutely the intention to launch a revitalised survey of student feedback when those considerations have reached their conclusion, ideally with fieldwork in 2025.