Economics Network Student Survey 2006: Executive Summary
In 2006, the Economics Network of the Higher Education Academy carried out its third survey of Economics students, covering both undergraduates and postgraduates. This is the executive summary of the report. We have also prepared a report on what the survey reveals about the First Year Experience of Economics students.
Purpose of the study
This national students survey was conducted online, as part of the Economics Network's ongoing research programme into teaching and learning in Economics. John Sloman and Inna Pomorina designed questions for the survey, which consisted of 2 sections (About you and About your degree course) and included 30 questions, both quantitative and qualitative. Students of Bristol University took part in a focus group and trial of the survey which helped to reformulate some questions.
The survey aimed to provide valuable information on students' perceptions of studying economics including identifying strengths and weaknesses in the learning and teaching of economics. Departments have used the results of previous surveys to inform curricula development.
Profile of survey respondents
Nearly two thousand students from sixty-nine departments took part in the survey, including both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Of the respondents:
- 55.5% are male and 44.5% are female;
- 82.1% started their courses under the age of 21;
- 72.7% state English as their first language;
- 63.9% have A-level in Maths;
- 59.2% have A-level in Economics;
- 81.2% state that Economics was their first choice;
The survey was intended as an observational study and not as a controlled experiment.
Methods of analysis
Students' responses to the quantitative survey questions are examined using standard statistical methods. Differences in responses are examined by gender, age of entry, year/level of study, A-level Economics, A-level Mathematics, English as first language and choice of course. Relationships that are statistically significant at the 0.05 levels are discussed. Responses to each of the qualitative questions are coded and aggregated for analyses using N-Vivo software. In the report, for illustrative purposes we include graphs, which are based on the codes, summarised in terms of their frequency and typical quotes from students' responses.
Responses to individual questions
Studying this degree course has met expectations for three quarters of respondents. When asked how the course differs from their expectations, students mentioned Maths and A-level Maths, course content and its relevance to the real world, level of teaching and support for students. Respondents were asked to indicate how useful they found different types of teaching in supporting their learning. More than half rate as useful and very useful: lectures; small classes and seminars; assigned reading; materials posted by lecturer on the course's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), feedback on submitted work, working informally with other students, preparing for exams and tests. The less-used learning activities, that more than a third of respondents had not encountered, include workshops or classes (of over 25 students), group work projects, online learning using economics software, online questions and tests (not assessed) and communication tools in the course VLE.
In seminars/tutorials/small classes, a vast majority go through pre-prepared problem sets or worksheets. At the same time more then 80% rarely or never have games, simulations or role-plays in seminars and nearly half rarely or never have individual student presentations.
Half of the respondents found the teaching of maths and stats on their course very good and mostly good, though about a third of them respond that some is good and some not so good.
A majority of respondents found the content of the degree largely relevant to the real world and the workload about right.
A majority found that the assessment on their degree accurately tests the level of their knowledge and understanding of the learning outcomes. As part of coursework, assessment essays in the student's own time are frequently used by the majority of respondents, while among those rarely or never used are essays done in class (87.4%), online assessment (71.5%) and group work projects (47.7%).
The big majority of respondents (67.0%) study on a course that makes use of a VLE. Almost all their comments either described VLEs positively or complained that they are underused.
Overall, about three quarters of respondents were satisfied with the quality of their degree course.
Students' comments to open-ended questions
Respondents identified as:
- best aspects of the course: quality of staff and lecturers, variety of modules to study, future job prospects;
- most useful seminar activities: going through pre-set problems or questions, discussions, group work and mini-lectures;
- ways to improve seminar activities: running seminars more frequently and interactively, making groups smaller and organising them according to the student's ability levels, as well as changing the content/structure of seminars and improving teaching;
- ways to improve teaching maths and stats: improving teaching methods, use of practice sets, taking into account previous knowledge and improving structure and content of the modules;
- ways to improve assessment: assessment should be more frequent and continuous, coursework can be assessed and exam weighting can be made clear, more essays should be used and better feedback given;
- economics software and its usefulness: 64.4% use the following economics software in their degree course and find it useful: Eviews (24.0%), STATA (19.5%), SPSS (14.3%), Win Econ (9.2%), Minitab, Microfit. However some students complain that not always enough explanations were provided;
- effectiveness of VLEs: an effective tool, but the overall opinion is that it is not utilised enough;
- their future career: in finance or finance-related services, economics, business or undecided;
- skills they developed: Interpersonal, Academic and Practical;
- aspects of the course that they don't like: the teaching methods of some lecturers, structure and content of the course, maths aspects and group sizes;
- aspects that could be improved: teaching methods, especially of GTAs, poor level of English language of some lecturers and GTAs, lack of feedback on students' work;
- how the course has changed them: better understanding of the wider world, clear career prospects, open their minds and changed them personally;
- in 5 years time: become managers in financial institutions and work in the City or develop a good career in any field. Some mention acquiring a well-paid job or working as an economist in a public or private institution;
- any other comment: many 'Thank you' replies for organising the survey, quality of questions asked and pursuit of better Economics education for future students.
We were impressed by the maturity of students' comments and by their awareness of teaching and learning issues in economics. Their reflections show that they not only learn modules necessarily for their degree but also in order to open their minds to a wider perspective of the world. Students appreciate their teachers' knowledge of the subject, but they'd like improvements in the areas of delivery, motivation and confident use of English language. Some of the things that students suggest require a lot of extra resources, like smaller class sizes and more contact time, while others could be achieved by relatively small changes in practice, which the Economics Network will be happy to support.
Appendix I includes the Economics Network Student Questionnaire. Appendix II includes graphs for all statistically significant factors for quantitative questions. Appendix III describes two ways of coding the data that were used for qualitative questions.