It is abundantly clear that countries around the world have reacted very differently to the COVID pandemic and when we reach the other side of this, we may eventually get a better perspective on whose strategy was the most successful. In Higher Education it has been a gargantuan struggle to get courses online at short notice as well as providing security and safety for students.
I-graduate’s COVID survey seeks to get a global sense of student satisfaction with the institutional response both in terms of the communication to the students about the pandemic and the quality of the online provision. We had responses from over 24,000 students.
We asked about overall satisfaction:
As can be seen, Malaysia, Singapore, Germany and Thailand have done particularly well in this area with overall satisfaction from 79% - 86% which compares favourably with the global average of 70%.
What is pretty clear is that there is a parallel between the HEIs’ responses and also the national governments’ own responses. For example, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia all had strict lock downs which, combined with strong central government, led to a rapid reduction in cases.
A couple of comments from students connected this institutional and government response.
"Good cooperation with the government's epidemic prevention work"(Chinese student in Singapore)
"Communicating their stand to students clearly and cope very well with the government policy in combating Covid-19" (Student in Malaysia)
One should also add that there is less autonomy for institutions in ASEAN countries to make their own decisions on ,for example opening or closing campuses and institutions have to follow Ministry of Education dictates which creates a degree of clarity and consistency which may be lacking in other countries.
If we drill down into a little more detail and look at specific aspects of the communication with students, we can see a similar pattern emerging. We asked students, “How satisfied are you with the following information you have received from your institution?”
We can see high levels of satisfaction with information supplied about physical health advice, well being support and travel restrictions across Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Again, much of this information was circulated via central government and the regulations were reasonably unambiguous.
Considering the rapid transition to online provision, the satisfaction rates remain high – again the ASEAN nations faring better along with Germany.
Some of the open comments reflected this:
I think all the lecturers in my faculty were fast to adapt to online teaching. Within first couple weeks after the Covid-19 outbreak, I was able to continue all my study via online platform. (Student in Thailand)
Everything was swiftly moved online, despite technical difficulties (which I'm sure OTHER universities have been experiencing too). (Student in Singapore)
There is a sense that students had an understanding/sympathy that this was a rapid change for both the institution and the lecturers with expectations that there will be hiccups along the way. (We have all experienced this as Zoom freezes or we forget to un-mute ourselves.)
It will be interesting to see if these scores remain high as we move into the October semesters and students will have increased expectations that rough edges have been smoothed out. Some students already reflected this concern in their open comments.
Try to re-evaluate all the lecturers and improve their communication skills and hardware abilities (e.g. computer, stable internet connection, mic etc.) so that they can provide high quality teaching through online platform. (Student in Malaysia)
A common theme that emerges across institutions in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia is a wish for an adjustment of fees if students aren’t able to have the same access to facilities that they had pre-COVID.
Again, an open comment from a student that was repeated in various forms across the region.
Support students by altering and reducing the fees structure as appropriate with online learning services. Give students a clear indication of plans for future semesters/ options for students not currently in Singapore. (Student in Singapore)
The call for fee reduction across ASEAN institutions will continue to grow in volume if access to student facilities remains limited. These calls may be blunted if as looks likely 100% face-to- face is replaced by a blended approach, but only if the online provision can meet the demands of a generation who expects online delivery to be seamless and lecturers are given enough training and there is investment in the IT infrastructure.
i-graduate has consistently felt that the student voice should be central to any decision-making process and there is always the temptation to short circuit this process during a crisis and rely on a top-down approach with little consultation. But as we move into the tail end of 2020, there is clear need to engage with students to understand their needs and concerns and ensure we are developing curricula, modes of delivery and support services that ensure the mutual success of students and institutions alike.
Written by Guy Perring, Regional Director, Asia, i-graduate
About the Student Barometer
The Student Barometer tracks and compares the decision-making, expectations, perceptions and intentions of students from application to graduation. I-graduate’s Barometer surveys benchmark feedback from over 3 million students across all fields and levels of study, in 1400 institutions across 33 countries. The Barometer is used to make informed decisions to improve the whole student experience, and most importantly, it helps institutions identify whether their students would recommend the institution to others.
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