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Student Academic Experience Survey 2023 – some practical thoughts

26 Jun 2023 | Dr Charles Knight Dr Charles Knight, Associate Director for Knowledge and Innovation at Advance HE considers some of the practical ramifications for senior leaders in learning and teaching following the publication of the Advance HE and HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey 2023.

Before I joined Advance HE, I worked in various student-facing roles where there was a need to balance planning for the now and predicting the future. The annual joint Advance HE/HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey was always a valuable insight into issues facing current students and trends that formed part of the arsenal for strategic planning. This year’s report by Jonathan Neves and Rose Stephenson is no exception and continues a longitudinal study tracking the reality of student life since 2005/06.  

Given the level of detail in the report, I want to focus here on two specific aspects and what they mean for leaders in learning and teaching – the cost of living crisis and the sense of loneliness many students feel. 

Cost of living 

The cost of living crisis impacts and influences the perception of university experience and contributes to a record number of students undertaking paid employment alongside their studies. From an operational perspective, while universities cannot impact inflation, they can do their best to alleviate its impacts where they can. 

First, when designing teaching and learning activities, there should be a strong focus on building courses that, as best as possible, use the university's existing resources and avoid 'hidden extras' regarding textbooks or other purchases. As a result, a whole university approach to course design coupled with robust scrutiny in validation events may be required. 

Secondly, given the increased cost of travel and the rise of commuter students, Universities should think carefully about what interactions need campus presence and what can be remote or even self-service. Every required trip to campus should be an essential or high-value one.  

There has been a move in some universities to move towards block delivery of teaching, and it is worth investing further if this as a design principle allows students to structure their time more effectively – especially considering the record number of students working.  


Loneliness is a complex issue and has no easy answers. However, good course design is one that, from induction into the first six weeks of study, there are lots of planned opportunities for students to get to know each other and to build networks and relationships. 

Behind the scenes, the university should have a clear plan for identifying students at risk from non-engagement (often a result of feeling isolated from course members) and how to support them.  

Universities should think carefully about how they provide and support extra-curricular activities in conjunction with student unions or other groups. Moreover, within the context of their roles as civil institutions, they need to consider opportunities for students to engage beyond the campus. 

Opportunities for AI 

Everyone is bored about hearing about Artificial Intelligence but reflecting on the cost of living and loneliness, I do wonder if there are opportunities for its selective use to automate many mundane activities that we get tied up with to free-up capacity for more high-value activities from a staff side and to ensure a student can get a quick answer or signposting to guidance at any time of the day or night.  

I have only scratched the surface here, and I look forward to the many conversations and, more importantly, actions that will emerge in HEIs based on this report.    


Charles Knight is the Associate Director for Knowledge and Innovation at Advance HE. Prior to joining Advance HE he worked in a range of leadership roles in UK Universities, most recently Associate Dean (Student Experience) at the University of Salford.

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