One in five postgrads consider quiting over financial or personal issues

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By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

More than two in five postgraduate research students have seriously considered dropping out of their degree, mainly because of financial or personal issues, a major national survey reveals.

The study of nearly 3,000 masters, PhD, or other students on postgrad research programmes found that more than 61% are fully or partly funded by a scholarship, but the figure drops to 57% if non-Irish students are excluded.

The first pilot national survey of these students captured the views of just under a third of those doing research postgraduate studies. Just 18% of them were funding their own studies, with 17% receiving grant support and 9% getting funding support from work.

Only around a quarter of students have specialist training, or travel to other labs or institutions, covered by their funding source.

The findings are published today along with the fifth annual Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE), which received 38,371 responses from undergraduate and taught postgrad courses at 27 publicly-funded colleges.

The larger survey shows broadly similar or slightly improved scores under a range of headings since 2016, with the only significant increase being in the quality of interactions with other students, academics, support and administration staff.

The research students in the pilot study were asked if they have ever seriously considered withdrawing from their research degree, and 59% had not, although this figure is slightly lower among those pursuing a level nine (masters or equivalent) qualification. But one in five level nine students have considered dropping out for financial reasons, as have more than one in six (17%) PhD students.

Students were allowed to provide more than one reason for giving consideration to dropping out of a course, and one in six of all those who responded have done so for family or personal reasons. Other reasons given for thinking seriously about withdrawing were health or employment (both cited by 8% of research students), and 5% have considered transferring to a different college.

Other findings in the studies published today include:

  • One in six PhD students reported inadequate computing facilities and one in seven do not have suitable working spaces
  • Taught postgraduate students of arts and humanities report lowest levels of workplace readiness, the highest levels being among education or health and welfare students
  • Arts and humanities taught postgrads are most likely to report interaction with academic staff, but the lowest interaction levels are found among those studying ICT

In both surveys, overall satisfaction with course provision and supports is high under most headings.

Students on taught programmes, including non- research postgraduate degrees, scored higher-order learning at universities better than at institutes of technology, but the opposite is true for learning in collaboration with other students.

Across taught programmes, the lowest indicator scores remain those around interaction with academic staff.

Half of first-year students and nearly a third on taught postgrad degrees have never discussed course topics, ideas, or concepts with academic staff outside of class, while 18% of all students have often discussed their performance.

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