Third of college students feel no academic support

More than one in three college students in a national survey do not feel well supported by academic staff.

The college experiences of 20,000 students who took part in the poll are mostly positive and the majority feel they are being well prepared for future jobs, the 2014 Irish Survey of Student Engagement found.

However, one of the lowest scores was on ‘academic support levels’, with 64% reporting they were well assisted academically. While the figure was 69% for first-year undergraduates, just 57% of final-year students said they were well supported by their institutions in academic terms.

“Students also get along well with their teachers, with two-thirds indicating that teachers are available, helpful and sympathetic,” the report found.

However, only half of students consider administrative staff to be available, considerate and flexible. It was one of a number of areas identified for possible improvement in a report on the first official student engagement survey, following a national pilot last year.

The plan is to use the information to help the 30 colleges whose students took part to see what they are doing well and what they need to do better.

The findings also identify a need for more support for part-time and older students, who were far more likely than younger or full-time students to have other responsibilities relating to work or family, which may raise challenges in combining those duties with academic work.

Most students were pleased with the levels of preparation for the workplace, but students of arts and humanities, science, maths, and computing had lower perceptions of how well they were being prepared for employment. Students of education, and health and welfare, feel better prepared for future employment in their relevant sectors.

Half of final-year undergraduates have undertaken a work placement, and more plan to do so by the time they graduate, providing what the report says is a sound basis for expansion in the future.

The survey is a result of partnership between the Higher Education Authority, the country’s third-level colleges, and the Union of Students in Ireland.

“College staff and students’ unions must now work together to ensure these issues are being followed up at an institutional level,” said USI president Laura Harmon.

Just under 30% of students have considered studying abroad or plan to take part in a student exchange.

HEA chief executive Tom Boland said yesterday it was planned to double to 12% by 2020 the proportion of Irish graduates who spend part of their course overseas, and to increase by half to 4,500 the number of students and graduates on European study abroad and traineeship trips under the new Erasmus+ programme.

Mr Boland said that languages are the new STEM subjects, and stressed the importance of studying languages from primary through to third-level.

“The world is a smaller place and Irish students need to understand first hand how to engage with other countries and cultures. We need to work strategically in this area especially with significant global political and economic players like Germany,” he said.


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