What we learned from the students on our Covid Tracker

Eleana Davidson on 23 June 2020
What we learned from the students on our Covid Tracker

From 23 March to 14 June we ran our Covid-Tracker survey to follow the shifting and evolving opinions and thoughts of students during lockdown. Delivered in weekly instalments, over 3750 responses from UK students at all levels of study – from prospective UG students to those studying a PhD - have been collected and analysed. 

Twelve reports, over 50 key findings, and more than half a million data points later, it’s now time to look back and remind ourselves of some of the topline trends that we’ve discovered, tracked and analysed throughout lockdown. 

How concerned? 

As we went into lockdown, 49% of students were very concerned about Covid-19, and this went up to its highest in week three, as the number of infections continued to grow, with 51% being very concerned. However, this number then fell steadily, bringing the total of very concerned to just 28% last week. But with 60% saying they are still slightly concerned about the situation, clearly students still need a lot of support.

We also found the positive insight that, almost consistently, over 90% of prospective undergraduate students who have already applied to university said they are sticking to their plans to enrol this September.

However, what they were happy to come back to differed week by week. We looked at term delays, changing modes of learning, and varying the activities available, and many did not want to go back to university if it was just online-only. Some even said they’d rather their Freshers’ week be postponed completely until they could enjoy it to the full extent late into the new year of 2021. 

Reactive to real-time news

In week nine, we asked students their thoughts on individual university responses. Did they feel relieved in the light of an online-only lecture timetable, or were they more interested in their universities deploying a Covid-safe campus environment?

Over half of students said that if their institution implemented no face-to-face lectures at all over the next academic year, they would feel disappointed and frustrated, and just one in 10 would be happy and relieved.  

When we asked what they would do if their university did go online-only, just 44% said they would still want to enrol. 13% would want to switch to a different institution, while 44% would defer a year.

Students felt much happier with the idea of a Covid-safe campus reopening instead, with 37% saying they would feel relieved and 23% saying they would be happy. When we asked what they would do if their university did this, 75% would still want to enrol. Just 7% would want to switch to a different institution, while 18% would defer a year. 


But, undergraduate students are only one part of the puzzle. We also wanted to find out more about prospective postgraduate students. 

We found that one in three current UG students who weren’t originally planning to study at PG level would now consider it - but only if they were offered a large discount. 

There are a lot of opportunities here to engage with prospective PG students. Students have told us that they think the labour market is going to be harder to break into with multiple job offers and internships being retracted. 

This concern only grew throughout the lockdown period. In week four of lockdown, we found that 67% of students were already concerned about getting a job afterwards. In the following two months, that figure then rose to three-quarters of students worried about employability post-studies. 

During the last three months, we’ve also looked into the impact lockdown has had on disadvantaged students compared to their more privileged counterparts. Mental health and the services students needed and hoped for. How likely they were to take a gap year, change courses or change universities before September (spoiler alert: twice as likely!). And so much more. 

So the good news? 

Due to the invaluable insights we’ve been collecting, the amazing response from both our student panel and our clients, and the situation still unfolding day by day, we’re extending the project. In early March, we had no idea how long the lockdown would be in place or just what the impact of Covid-19 would be on the higher education landscape, so shutting down the tracker now doesn’t seem right when there are still so many questions to be answered. 

You can upgrade (if not yet a premium subscriber) or renew your pre-existing subscription here to continue receiving student insights in real-time as the situation unfolds, and keep using them to steer and focus your efforts in the areas that matter to students. 

If you’d like to ask your own questions in the next stage of the Tracker project, let us know! 

Eleana Davidson
Eleana Davidson on 23 June 2020