Economics LTSN Student Survey 2002: Executive Summary

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Post Scriptum: The BBC is reporting (Student views 'could damage departments', Thursday 26 June) that HEFCE, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, is seeking to implement a nationwide student survey.

The Full Report is downloadable as a 1.08 Meg PDF file (Warning: large download).

This is a summary of the report, which analyses the results of a survey of undergraduate Economics students in 2002. The survey was carried out by the Economics centre of the Learning and Teaching Support Network (Economics LTSN).

1. Purpose of the study

Economics LTSN organised an on-line national students survey to obtain information about students' perceptions of learning Economics. It was part of the programme of research into students' experiences in studying Economics, based on a student-centred model of learning. In addition to the survey, the programme included focus group discussions with students.

2. Background

The survey was based on a questionnaire developed by Ramsden (1991) and used in Australia for more than 20 years. Alterations were made to the questions to make the survey more Economics specific. The survey focused on students' experiences in their degree course and its findings will be compared with future survey results in order to track significant changes. The results of the survey are confidential for all the participating departments and only national results are being published. Of the 94 departments that were approached, 58 agreed for their students to take part.

The survey was an observational study, not a controlled experiment.

3. Profile of survey respondents

More than 1700 students took part in the survey (10.2% of the cohort). Of the respondents:

  • 58.0% were male and 41.3% were female (0.7% did not specify);
  • 88.0% started their courses under the age of 21;
  • there was an approximately equal distribution between all years of undergraduate courses;
  • 77.0% stated that English was their first language;
  • 64.7% had an A level in Maths;
  • 62.3% had an A level in Economics.

4. Students' overall assessment

Students' responses to the survey questions were analysed, with particular attention paid to the differences in responses according to sex, age of entry, level of study, A-level Maths, A-level Economics, English as a first language and whether Economics was the first choice of course. Standard statistical methods were used. Responses to each of the questions are summarised in terms of percentage frequency of responses.

5. Responses to individual questions

In general, 76.2% of students were satisfied with their Economics courses.

Students tend to agree more with the statements that their Economics courses are intellectually stimulating, sharpen their analytical and problem-solving skills, provide them with all the information that is needed to complete the course, help them to develop the ability to plan their own work and bring them overall satisfaction.

Students tend to disagree more with the statements that they are actively engaged in lectures, that their courses develop their abilities to work as team members, that Economics software is effective in helping them to learn and that it is easy to know the standards of the work expected from them.

Students expressed polarised opinions regarding the appropriateness of the amount of Maths and stats included in their courses.

6. Open-ended questions

Students identified as:

  • best aspects of the course: quality of teaching staff, the variety of modules in the degree and the intrinsic interest of the subject;
  • aspects that could be improved: quality of teaching, course content, lack of feedback on assessment and Maths-related issues;
  • hardest aspects of the degree: some aspects of the course content and adjusting to work in a university environment;
  • most useful activities in seminars: group discussions, group presentations and problem-solving exercises: team component stressed as useful by many;
  • less useful activities in seminars: passive "dictative" learning, bad working technology, tutors with poor English, poor communication between lecturers and students;
  • their future career: banking, finance, accountancy, civil service, consultancy, economist, postgraduate study, etc.

7. The factor scale analyses

The survey questions cluster together to form factor scales.

The mean values, on a scale of 1 to 5, were:

  • Good Teaching Scale: 3.34;
  • Clear Goals and Standards Scale: 3.50;
  • Appropriate Assessment Scale: 3.47;
  • Appropriate Workload: 3.13;
  • Generic Skills Scale: 3.59;
  • Environment Scale: 3.45.

Although, in general, students were very satisfied with the whole degree course, they were less satisfied with different aspects of the course. Comparison of data between universities may be misleading, as students differ in terms of personal, educational and family backgrounds, which may have a profound effect on their perceptions of learning. The main value of the survey results lies in forming the basis for comparison with future survey results.

8. Correlation Analysis

With correlation analysis we discovered that the scales were not independent and there was a strong linear relationship between Good Teaching and Generic Skills Scales (r = 0.637). More moderate correlation existed between Good Teaching Scale and some other scales: Environment Scale (r = 0.581) and Clear Goals and Standards Scale (r = 0.544). Appropriate Workload Scale and Appropriate Assessment Scale have very poor correlation between themselves and with the rest of the scales. Students' satisfaction with the course is positively related to the Good Teaching Scale and other scales, with the exception of Appropriate Assessment.

9. Conclusions

The conclusions summarise the results of the report and suggest that the main value of the survey will lie in its use in the longer term, as a base for tracing significant changes and patterns in students' perceptions of learning Economics.

10. Appendixes

Appendix 1 includes the Economics LTSN students' survey. Appendix 2 includes the Table of Responses to Questions 1 to 27. Appendix 3 includes representative answers to open-ended questions 28 to 33.

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