Economics Network Student Survey 2004: Executive Summary

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This is the summary of the report which analyses the results of the Economics Students Survey in 2004. The survey covered both undergraduates and postgraduates and was carried out by the Economics Network of the Higher Education Academy.

1. Purpose of the study

The Economics Network has conducted its second on-line national students survey to obtain information about students' perceptions of learning Economics. The survey is based on a questionnaire developed by Paul Ramsden and used in Australia for more than 20 years. It is part of the Network’s programme of research into the needs of our different stakeholders along with the Lecturers, Alumni and Employers surveys. This time, not only undergraduates but also postgraduates took part in the survey. Departments have used the results of the 2002 survey to improve their teaching.

2. Profile of survey respondents

A total of 2022 students took part in the survey: 1843 undergraduates and 179 postgraduates. Of the respondents:

  • 55.7% were male and 44.3% were female;
  • 86.5% started their courses under the age of 21;
  • 63.5% stated that English was their first language;
  • 62.7% had an A-level in Mathematics;
  • 63.1% had an A-level in Economics;
  • 78.5% stated that Economics was their first choice.

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

3. Students' overall assessment

Students' responses to the survey questions have been analysed separately for undergraduates and postgraduates, with particular attention paid to the differences in responses according to gender, age of entry, level of study, A-level Mathematics, A-level Economics, English as first language and whether Economics was the first choice of course. Standard statistical methods were applied. Responses to each of the questions are summarised in terms of percentage frequency of responses and accompanied by quotes from answers to open-ended questions.

4. Responses to individual questions

Although only half of the students felt that their degree course had tuned out to be as they expected, more than 70.0% of them were satisfied with its quality.

It is too early, with just two surveys, to speak about tendencies or trends, but the results of the 2002 and 2004 surveys are generally consistent. They are also consistent with results of similar surveys of Australian universities.

There were some differences in the way undergraduates and postgraduates answered their questions.

Students tend to agree more with the statements that their Economics courses are intellectually stimulating, sharpen their analytical, communication and problem-solving skills, provided them with all the information they needed for the course, helped to develop the ability to plan their own work, that they benefit from the contact with active researches and are satisfied with the quality of their degree course.

Students tend to disagree more with the statements that they are actively engaged in the lectures, that their workloads are heavy and pace is too fast, that the degree course has helped them to develop their ability to work as team member, that staff seemed more interested in testing what they have memorised, 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.

As in 2002, students expressed polarised opinions regarding the appropriateness of the amount of maths and stats included in their courses.

5. Open-ended questions

Students identified as:

  • best aspects of the course: the variety of modules on the degree, quality of teaching staff and employability prospects of the graduates;
  • aspects that could be improved: passive teaching, poor level of English language of lecturers and teaching assistants, lack of feedback on assessment;
  • hardest aspects of the degree: maths and stats elements of the course and adjusting to university life;
  • most useful activities in seminars: active workshops with group discussion, presentations and problem-solving exercises, developing skills useful for future employment;
  • least useful activities in seminars: lack of interaction, "parrot-fashion repetition of answers", lack of feedback, lack of communication between lecturers and students.
  • their future career: banking, finance, accountancy, civil service, consultancy, journalism.

6. 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 – 3.25;
  • Clear Goals and Standards Scale – 3.40
  • Appropriate Assessment Scale – 3.38
  • Appropriate Workload – 3.10
  • Generic Skills Scale – 3.52
  • Environment Scale – 3.39

The means for different scales cannot be compared directly. Their significance is as time-series data for tracking possible future changes. Comparison of data between universities may be misleading, as students differ in terms of personal, educational and family background, which may have a profound effect on their perceptions of learning. For each scale, statistically significant explanatory variables are identified.

7. Correlation analyses

Correlation analyses of the scales shows that they were not independent and there was a strong linear relationship between the Good Teaching Scale and some other scales – Generic Skills Scale (r = 0.591), Environment Scale (r = 0.582) and a more moderate relationship with the Clear Goals and Standards Scale (r = 0.538). The Appropriate Workload Scale and Appropriate Assessment Scale have very poor correlation between themselves and the rest of the scales.

8. Conclusions

The conclusions summarise the results of the report and suggest its possible use by departments in improving teaching quality.

9. Appendixes

Appendix 1 includes the Economics Network Student Questionnaire. Appendixes 2 and 3 include the Tables of Responses to Questions 1 to 27 by undergraduates and postgraduates. Appendix 4 includes representative answers to open-ended questions 28 to 33.

The Full Report is downloadable as a 800K PDF file (Warning: large download).

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