top of page

The virtual return to campus and its impact on student engagement

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

The latest government advice asks universities to identify an appropriate blend of online and face-to-face learning dependent on subject, to ‘maximise learning’ and support staff and students who can’t attend campus.

With many university students due to return to a virtual campus this September, it’s clear the student experience will be a lot different for this year’s student cohort. Whether you are offering a blended approach or going completely virtual, it’s clear that virtual learning will be a priority in many student’s lives.

Covid-19 has completely transformed higher education. Like many other sectors, universities around the UK have had to rapidly change their way of operating, as well as increase support for their students.

Many universities have adapted well to the new Covid-19 safety measures, with 97% of UK universities confirming that they will provide in-person teaching at the start of the new term. However, a new survey shows that not all students are happy with their new form of online teaching.

Survey findings from UK independent think tank HEPI, show that only two in five students (40%) are satisfied with the online teaching they are receiving. The data was taken from 1,000 full-time undergraduate students in mid-June of this year.

Compared to the teaching that took place back in March 2020, when the UK first went into lockdown, fewer students are satisfied with the online learning that’s replaced face-to-face teaching. Only 42% are ‘very satisfied’ or ‘quite satisfied’ compared to a slightly higher average of 49% who were surveyed back in March.

Overall student engagement rates

Online student engagement with degree content is not the only issue. It’s clear that despite students and universities becoming more well-adjusted to institutional changes, overall student engagement with universities will likely see a fall due to a lack of in-person relations.

Alongside students’ chosen course of study, university resources such as study and social spaces, sports, societies, libraries, cafés and mental health services will also likely be affected in the long term. As well as student accommodation and student’s living experiences.

Despite many universities attempting to accommodate recent changes advised by the government, it remains a challenge to be able to truly engage students in such an unprecedented time.

Whilst some university services can deliver their content online, such as careers and wellbeing services, a key aspect of university life is socialising with fellow students and staff, which means that the overall student university experience will be affected in the long term due to the aftermath of Covid-19.

Results from a July cross-sectional survey by Hype Collective of 70 students across the UK shows that 100% agree that their university experience won’t be as fun, with approximately 70% of students agreeing that student wellbeing will be worse.

The Digital Divide

Another contributing factor to universities seeing a fall in student engagement is the digital divide. According to research published this September by the Office for Students (OfS), 52% of students said that their learning experience was impacted by a slow or unreliable internet connection with 8% severely affected.

In addition to this, 56% said they lacked access to appropriate online course materials, with 9% ‘severely’ impacted and 18% by lack of access to a computer, laptop or tablet, with 4% ‘severely’ impacted.

Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to face a worse university experience this year, both academically and socially, due to not having access to a reliable internet connection and/or appropriate digital resources. Yet most universities will be relying on virtual learning as their primary source of teaching for the foreseeable future.

With these barriers in mind, it is up to us, as both employers and universities, to adapt fast and make the necessary changes needed to accommodate students, no matter their socioeconomic status.

Every young person deserves to chance to discover their potential and have the best university experience possible. And by prioritising student engagement, we are one step closer to ensuring equal opportunity for all, both within education and the workplace.

How we can help

Here at TG Consulting, we understand what students want and what they need and how to truly engage them. We can help you develop and provide a robust and well-rounded student experience that will help you to engage and attract prospective students and positively impact your current students in this unprecedented Covid-19 climate.

We are experts in our field and provide a number of services designed to engage and attract prospective students and positively impact your current students. Whether you are looking for individual programme analysis, graduate and student training and coaching, help with embedding employability frameworks and models, or an employability and careers service health check-up, we are here to help.

Want to find out more about our services? Check out our full list of services here. Or get in touch with us via for a virtual coffee and a free initial consultation.

Written by Katie Watson, TG Consulting intern