Chapter 1: What is student engagement in learning?
COVID-19 and Irish higher education institutions in 2022
The results of StudentSurvey.ie continue to have value in 2022, given the crucial insights they provide into the profile of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic of the experiences of students across 25 HEIs in Ireland. These students included full-time and part-time students, Irish domiciled and internationally domiciled students, and students from across a range of fields of study and undertaking a range of programme types (among other student and course characteristics). The results presented in this report were all generated during national fieldwork in February-March 2022, when the most severe COVID restrictions had been eased but a full return to on-campus activities had not taken place.
Nearly 300,000 students have responded to StudentSurvey.ie between 2016 and 2022, and the profile of respondents has closely matched the national student population profile over these years. As shown in the National Report 2021 and the Trends Over Time Research 2016-2021, the national average scores for the areas of Collaborative Learning, Student-Faculty Interaction, and Supportive Environment all increased from 2016 to 2020, but all fell statistically significantly in 2021. These questions are revisited in Chapter 4 of this research in order to assess the degree to which these scores have recovered in 2022.
The unprecedented change brought about by the COVID-19 global crisis cannot be overlooked and is likely to cast a long shadow into the future. Public health guidance related to COVID-19 necessitated a move away from the traditional on-campus higher education model towards a remote and blended/ hybrid model in the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years. The results of StudentSurvey.ie 2021 demonstrated that hybrid or flexible models were favoured by some groups of students, such as those combining work and study, students with care commitments, and students with disabilities. To build on the potential offered by the continuation of a blended teaching and learning environment, consideration needs to be given to how teaching and learning communities of practice can be developed and maintained in an online environment, and how virtual spaces can be designed to foster collaborative action and social bonds.
The changes brought about by COVID-19 may be short-lived, or they may affect how higher education operates in the long-term. In either case, feedback from a national survey over a number of years has enduring value in understanding the experience of students in higher education. The results of national surveys of student engagement provide a broad-based study of the experiences of students. They are an excellent mechanism to listen to students and to inform actions in response to their concerns and opinions.