High levels of student well-being at AU with room for improvement
A high degree of satisfaction with their degree programme, strong academic commitment and historically high levels of satisfaction with the physical study environment. These are some of the positive results of a university-wide survey of the study environment at Aarhus University. But challenges remain, such as stress and a desire for more feedback.
About nine in ten students feel comfortable with their degree programme, and 85% would recommend their degree programme to others. Just as many students feel academically motivated and are looking forward to using their education when they graduate. These are some of the positive results of the latest study environment survey at Aarhus University, which took place last autumn and involved all of the university’s students.
“For the third time, we can be satisfied that our students express a high degree of satisfaction with their degree programmes, and that they both feel academically motivated and are looking forward to putting their education to use after graduation. This is a big pat on the back for the university’s teaching staff, who perform to a high standard of academic excellence every day and who create the conditions for the students’ engagement in their subject. At the same time, the study indicates that our students are preoccupied by the connection between their education and the labour market,” says Berit Eika, pro-rector for education.
Another positive result of the survey is a historically high level of satisfaction with the physical study environment at the entire university. Eighty-three per cent of students are generally satisfied with the physical surroundings and facilities – up from 67 per cent in 2011. The increased level of satisfaction may be due to an increased focus on creating more study places, facilities for group work, classrooms and better digital solutions.
"We have made a major effort to include considerations of the students’ well-being in the many construction projects, additions and refurbishments of recent years, for example Katrinebjerg, Navitas and the Nobel Park. Even though we still have a lot of work to do, it appears that our efforts are bearing fruit and are contributing to making life better for our students," says Berit Eika.
More are experiencing stress
For Aarhus University, the study environment survey is a good tool to help develop the study environment going forward. Although the general level of well-being is high, there are still challenges. One in five students experiences stress on a daily basis. This is almost twice as many as in 2011 – despite the fact that a wide variety of university-wide and local initiatives to combat stress have been taken, for example training student counsellors in recognising the signs of stress, the website studerende.au.dk/en/studentwelfare/themes/, mentor schemes and various workshops.
“This is simply thought-provoking and worrying. Stress has many causes, and there are indications that stress is a general societal problem which we at the university can’t solve alone. But we have a responsibility to create the best possible framework for our students’ well-being, and I can see three focus areas in particular in the students’ responses. The study progress reform, which was introduced in 2016, puts considerable pressure on our students, and in this connection we have to help them with planning and student guidance. We also have to do a better job of communicating what we expect from our students, and it’s also evident that career stress is a major issue. We are already engaged in a far-reaching effort to prepare students better for the labour market and to create closer links between the university and the labour market. Hopefully, this will contribute to reducing the stress students experience in relation to their future career opportunities,” explains Eika, who also stresses that the university’s efforts to prevent and reduce stress will continue.
The students want more feedback
Another issue which needs to be addressed is the students’ desire for more feedback, which they also expressed in the 2011 survey. This year, the question was expressed in a more nuanced way, and the result was a more detailed expression of what students want. Students are particularly interested in more feedback on their performance in exams and greater reassurance that they are performing satisfactorily and learning what is required.
“Teaching staff are under considerable time pressure, and this means that we will never be able to offer one-to-one consultations in all subjects. But getting feedback is important for students’ ability to improve, so we are always working to develop models which ensure that students get the best possible response to their work,” says Eika, who also calls for a more explicit alignment of expectations between students and teaching staff.
At the faculties, departments, schools and in particular the boards of studies, the process of discussing and analysing the study environment survey will now begin. The Education Committee will serve as the central coordinating body for the coming initiatives, which are primarily expected to take place locally, as the challenges vary from programme to programme.
Selected key conclusions from the survey
Generally high levels of well-being
- 88 per cent are satisfied with their degree programme
- 88 per cent would recommend their degree programme to others
Strong academic motivation
- 87 per cent feel motivated to engage in their subject/courses
- 90 per cent are looking forward to use their education
Strong relations between the students
- 87 per cent feel that they are able to get help from fellow students
- 60 per cent often or almost always part of a study group outside the exam period (up from 45 per cent in 2011)
Historically high level of satisfaction with the physical study environment
- Satisfaction with the physical environment has increased significantly, to 83 per cent (against 67 per cent in 2011 and 72 per cent in 2014). Aspects of the physical framework students were asked about include access to the university and work/study spaces as well as the availability of necessary technical solutions.
Stress is becoming more widespread
- 20 per cent experience severe stress symptoms (heart palpitations, depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, etc.) In 2011, the percentage was 11 per cent, and 17 percent in 2014.
Students want more feedback
- 36 per cent report that possibilities for receiving feedback regarding their academic performance are good.
- 48 per cent find it very difficult to know whether they are doing well and learning what is required.
The students spend more time studying
- The amount of time devoted to class attendance, internships and preparation has increased to just under 35 hours a week, up from 30.7 hours per week in 2014.
About the survey
- The study environment survey is conducted once every three years at Aarhus University, and the first study took place in 2007.
- Responses are collected in November via an electronic questionnaire-based survey sent out to all students at Aarhus University.
- In 2016, 46 per cent of AU students responded to the survey, the highest response rate to date.
- Since the introduction of the Educational Environment Act in 2004, all Danish universities have been under an obligation to conduct this type of survey.
- See study environment survey reports from 2007, 2011 and 2014.