93% of students intend to stay on at university, despite Covid-19 challenges

 

New research reveals that although 2020 has seen significant challenges,

students in the UK have adjusted well and intend to continue their university courses in January 2021

 

  • Four in five students (81%) agree that although it is not how they expected their first year at university to be, they value their time there
  • Almost three quarters of students say they’ve transitioned well to life at university this year (72%) with university peers, parents and universities themselves offering the most valued support
  • The results overwhelmingly show that students are happy with the choices they’ve made: not to defer (81%) and to move away from home (82%) despite coronavirus
  • However, challenges remain: 54% would still like to receive more support from their university

 

Unite Students, the UK’s largest provider of student accommodation, asked 1,000 UK students about their experience during the first months of the new academic year. The survey found that despite the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the vast majority (93%) intend to remain at university and continue with their courses for the rest of this academic year. More than four in five (85%) said it was likely they would stay in their current accommodation to do this (vs 7% who said it was unlikely).

 

Over four in five students are happy they decided to go to university, with 81% agreeing that although it is not how they expected their first year at university to be, they value their time there. More than a quarter (27%) strongly agreed.

 

Almost three quarters of students who were polled by Opinium in November say they have transitioned well to starting or continuing university this year (72%) and nearly two thirds (63%) say their university has done a good job of supporting them during this period. Three quarters (75%) also agree that living in student accommodation[1] away from home and being at university is better than the alternative.

When asked about support for transitioning to university, students have found their peers and friends at university as the most helpful source (46%), followed by parents (34%) and their university (31%). 

 

However, just over half (52%) of students agree they are meeting new people and making new friends, while 29% disagree; perhaps a product of the challenges of Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing this year. Some students also said they’d like to receive greater support in the current climate.

 


[1] ‘Student accommodation’ refers to accommodation you are living in while studying for your degree that is not your permanent home

 

Students are happy with their decisions

 

Despite the pandemic, the results overwhelmingly show that students are happy with the choices they’ve made. 81% are glad they decided not to defer and 82% are happy they moved to student accommodation rather than staying at home during the pandemic, driven by a desire to ‘immerse themselves in university life’ (41%), live with people their own age away from home (34%), wanting independence from their parents (27%) and experience a new city (23%).

 

For almost a quarter of students, deferring the 20/21 academic year never crossed their minds (24%), while the same proportion believe now is the right time to invest in their education.

 

The importance of the whole university experience is reflected in students’ decisions to live away from home, with the majority of students feeling they are benefitting from the experience this year; 92% like the greater independence that comes from living away from home and 64% like living with people their own age. 85% also said it was likely they would stay in their current accommodation in January.

 

Commenting on the survey results, Richard Smith, Chief Executive of Unite Students, said:

 

“In what has been a very difficult year for students, it is reassuring – but not surprising – to see an exceptional sense of resilience come through in these survey results. Despite the pandemic, students continue to see the value in not just the educational aspect of their degrees, but also in the social skills and independence that the wider university experience provides. The majority are committed to continuing this experience, although it may be different and they are adjusting to a new learning experience.

 

“Likewise, I know how challenging it has been for all of those who work in the sector, throughout the UK, to support students, and keep them safe and secure while still providing a meaningful and enjoyable experience. Given the scale of the challenge and uncertainties we have all faced, I think this is something that they should all be very proud of.

 

“Doing the right thing for our students and staff has been our priority throughout the pandemic and it is important that we maintain our focus on this throughout the winter and beyond. We are already looking forward to welcoming students back in January as they continue their studies.”

 

Commenting on the survey results, Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said:

 

“It is easy to forget how aspirational people are about their own lives. This important new research reminds us that students are keen to learn, keen to get on with their lives and keen to make the best of the opportunities they have, despite the challenging times in which we live.

 

“Covid has disrupted students’ lives in unfortunate and regrettable ways but they are acting rationally in wanting to continue with their education. It is always better to learn than to build a blank space on your CV and their current behaviour is helping to set them up for success in the post-pandemic world when it eventually comes.

 

“We often hear complaints about ‘snowflake students’. Yet far from this caricature, students have typically approached the pandemic in ways that suggest they are resilient, aspirational and very sensible.”

 

 

Find out more about the survey by visiting:  http://www.unite-group.co.uk/insight/experiences-during-covid-19-pandemic-student-survey-november-2020

 

 

Data tables mentioned in release

Thinking about your second term coming up in January 2021, how likely or unlikely are you to continue your course? (Asked of all respondents)

 

Very likely

79 %

Somewhat likely

14 %

Neither likely nor unlikely

4 %

Somewhat unlikely

1 %

Very unlikely

1 %

I don’t know/not sure

1 %

NET: Likely

93 %

NET: Unlikely

2 %

 

Thinking about your second term coming up in January 2021, how likely or unlikely are you to stay in your current accommodation? (Asked of all respondents)

 

Very likely

70 %

Somewhat likely

15 %

Neither likely nor unlikely

5 %

Somewhat unlikely

3 %

Very unlikely

4 %

I don’t know/not sure

4 %

NET: Likely

85 %

NET: Unlikely

7 %

 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement about being at university during the COVID-19 pandemic?
This is not how I expected my first year at university to be but I value my time here

(Asked of all first year undergraduate and first year postgraduates)

 

Strongly agree

27 %

Agree

54 %

Neither agree nor disagree

11 %

Disagree

5 %

Strongly disagree

2 %

I don’t know/not sure

0 %

NET: Agree

81 %

NET: Disagree

7 %

 

Are you happy with your decision not to defer in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic?

(Asked of all those who made a decision not to defer. Those who said ‘the choice to defer never crossed my mind weren’t included)

 

Yes, very happy

33 %

Yes, quite happy

48 %

No not very happy

10 %

No not at all happy

1 %

I’m not sure

9 %

NET: Happy

81 %

NET: Not happy

11 %

 

Are you happy with your decision to be in student accommodation instead of being at home in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic? As a reminder by ‘student accommodation’ we mean the accommodation you are living in while studying for your degree that is not your permanent home.

(Asked of all those living in student accommodation)

 

Yes, very happy

34 %

Yes, quite happy

49 %

No not very happy

10 %

No not at all happy

3 %

I’m not sure

4 %

NET: Happy

82 %

NET: Not happy

13 %

 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement about starting or returning to university this academic year?

I have transitioned well to starting/ continuing my life at university

(Asked of all respondents)

 

Strongly agree

17 %

Agree

55 %

Neither agree nor disagree

15 %

Disagree

10 %

Strongly disagree

3 %

I don’t know/not sure

1 %

NET: Agree

72 %

NET: Disagree

12 %

 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement about starting or returning to university this academic year?

I would like more support from my university while transitioning to student life

(Asked of all respondents)

 

Strongly agree

17 %

Agree

37 %

Neither agree nor disagree

28 %

Disagree

14 %

Strongly disagree

1 %

I don’t know/not sure

2 %

NET: Agree

54 %

NET: Disagree

15 %

 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement about starting or returning to university this academic year?
I think my university has done a good job of supporting me since starting/returning to university

(Asked of all respondents)

 

Strongly agree

13 %

Agree

50 %

Neither agree nor disagree

22 %

Disagree

13 %

Strongly disagree

3 %

I don’t know/not sure

1 %

NET: Agree

63 %

NET: Disagree

15 %

 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement about starting or returning to university this academic year?
I think living in student accommodation and being at university is better than the alternative

(Asked of those living in student accommodation)

 

Strongly agree

29 %

Agree

47 %

Neither agree nor disagree

19 %

Disagree

4 %

Strongly disagree

1 %

I don’t know/not sure

1 %

NET: Agree

75 %

NET: Disagree

5 %

 

Who or what has been most helpful in supporting your transition to student life during the COVID-19 pandemic?

(Asked of all respondents)
 

My peers/ friends at university

46 %

My parents

34 %

My university

31 %

My peers/ friends at home

31 %

Social media

9 %

My accommodation provider

6 %

A charity/ external mental health provider (e.g. NHS)

5 %

News outlets/ source i.e. BBC

2 %

Other

3 %

N/A I haven’t had any support for this

9 %

 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement about starting or returning to university this academic year?
I am meeting new people/ making new friends

(Asked of all respondents)

 

Strongly agree

18 %

Agree

35 %

Neither agree nor disagree

18 %

Disagree

19 %

Strongly disagree

10 %

I don’t know/not sure

1 %

NET: Agree

52 %

NET: Disagree

29 %

 

Why did you choose to live in student accommodation this year rather than study at home? By ‘student accommodation’ we mean the accommodation you are living in while studying for your degree that is not your permanent home.

(Asked of those living in student accommodation)

 

I was looking forward to immersing myself in University life

41 %

I wanted to live with people my age away from home

34 %

The course I wanted was only available at a university that is too far away from my family home to be able to commute from

34 %

I didn’t want to stay at home with my parents

27 %

I wanted to live in a new city

23 %

I didn’t see any alternative

15 %

Other (please specify)

7 %

 

 

Why did you decide to start/ return to university this year rather than defer?

(Asked of all respondents)

 

I was looking forward to starting university and my studies

32 %

N/A The option to defer never crossed my mind

24 %

I think now is the right time to invest in my education

24 %

I didn’t see any alternative

20 %

I was concerned about finding a job during the pandemic

14 %

I didn’t think I’d be able to travel/ go on a gap year

13 %

I was concerned about not being able to go if I deferred

11 %

I didn’t want to stay at home with my parents

11 %

I wanted to live with people my age away from home

9 %

I have already deferred and didn’t want to defer again

6 %

I wanted to live in a new city

6 %

Other (please specify)

5 %

 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement about starting or returning to university this academic year?
I like the greater independence that comes from living away from home

(Asked of those living in student accommodation)

 

Strongly agree

44 %

Agree

48 %

Neither agree nor disagree

6 %

Disagree

2 %

Strongly disagree

0 %

I don’t know/not sure

0 %

NET: Agree

92 %

NET: Disagree

2 %

 

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement about starting or returning to university this academic year?
I like living with and being surrounded by people my own age

(Asked of all respondents)

 

Strongly agree

25 %

Agree

40 %

Neither agree nor disagree

23 %

Disagree

4 %

Strongly disagree

1 %

I don’t know/not sure

8 %

NET: Agree

64 %

NET: Disagree

5 %

 

 

Notes to editor

For more information or further comment, please contact:

 

Christopher Allen/ Allison Parkes-Norris, Unite Students,

Christopher.Allen@unitestudents.com, Allison.Parkes-Norris@unitestudents.com

07754 749 301/ 07715 798 151

Victoria Heslop / Courtney Sanford, Powerscourt, unite@powerscourt-group.com, 0207 250 1446

 

Methodology

The findings in this report are based on quantitative research carried out for Unite Students by Opinium from 30th October to 6th November 2020, with a sample of 1,000 UK students. The student sample was chosen to have robust numbers in each of the key subgroups being analysed. There is therefore confidence that the insights we pull from these groups are reflective of the wider population of these groups.

 

The breakdown of the sample is as follows:

 

 Undergraduates:

  • First years: 488 respondents
  • Second year: 144
  • Third year: 153
  • Fourth year: 55

Total 840

 

Postgraduates:

  • 160

 The survey was conducted from 30th October - 6th November 2020

 

 

About Opinium

Opinium helps its clients harness the power of insight to build, grow, promote and make strategic business decisions.

 

It is an award-winning strategic insight agency built on the belief that in a world of uncertainty and complexity, success depends on the ability to stay on the pulse of what people think, feel and do.

 

Creative and inquisitive, Opinium is passionate about empowering our clients to make the decisions that matter.