Victoria’s top universities crash in student satisfaction ratings

Students at the University of Melbourne and Monash University were among the most dissatisfied in the country last year, delivering a bruising report card on their experience during Victoria’s second COVID-19 lockdown.

The two elite institutions recorded the largest declines in students’ overall ratings of their education experience in the federal government-commissioned 2020 Student Experience Survey, released on Thursday.

Just over 50 per cent of students at the University of Melbourne reported they were happy with their education experience in 2020, according the federal government’s annual Student Experience Survey.Credit:Joe Armao

The University of Melbourne was at the bottom of the pile of 41 Australian universities, with just 52 per cent of students rating their experience as positive – a plunge of 25 percentage points compared with 2019. Monash University recorded a 60 per cent overall satisfaction rating from its students, down from 78 per cent in 2019.

But the rise in dissatisfaction was felt around the country as students and universities were forced to quickly adapt to online-only learning for most of the year. There was an overall drop in satisfaction from 78 per cent in 2019 to 69 per cent, based on the verdicts of almost 250,000 students surveyed across the 41 universities.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said while the results were certainly impacted by COVID-19, universities needed to redouble their efforts to improve the education experience.

“Some of our universities have lost that focus and it’s time to return to core business. While the results were not unexpected, universities must ensure that as classes resume for 2021, they are focused on giving local students the best possible education and learning experience,” Mr Tudge said.

A University of Melbourne spokesman said the survey had been conducted over August and September, during the height of the second lockdown in Victoria, and the university had since “made a number of improvements and addressed some of the issues identified in the report”.

“While we acknowledge the [survey] has identified a number of opportunities to improve our students’ experience, the findings are not unexpected given we are an institution that has a strong emphasis on campus-based study and student engagement for a large number of domestic and international students,” the spokesman said.

A spokesman for Monash University said the survey results were “disappointing for the university sector across Australia”.

“In semester one 2020 alone, we transitioned 2300 units [of study] online. We invested heavily in digital platforms, education and teaching, and introduced new initiatives to support our students. Monash took every step to support students and minimise inconvenience while they learnt from home,” the spokesman said.

‘Students missed the on-campus experience to connect with other students and the ability to access our state-of-the-art resources.’

The survey report, produced by the Social Research Centre at the Australian National University, said despite the statewide lockdowns, a number of lower-tier Victorian universities experienced below-average falls of fewer than 10 percentage points in student ratings. They included Victoria University, Swinburne University of Technology and La Trobe University.

A spokesman for RMIT University, where 62 per cent of students reported a positive experience, said the survey showed two key themes.

“Students missed the on-campus experience to connect with other students and the ability to access our state-of-the-art resources,” the spokesman said.

“As lockdowns eased, priority was given to practical-based activities to return to campus, however, this was not always possible given the constantly changing COVID-19 situation.

National Tertiary Education Union president Alison Barnes said academics were under intense pressure last year, often with less support as casuals were let go and staff made redundant.

“To do online teaching well, you need to invest significant resources in it,” she said.

“We have a situation where staff is being cut, work intensity is increasing and the government really failed to provide the sector with any kind of rescue package or lifeline.”

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