Research reveals COVID-19 immense challenges for students

  • 68 per cent of Australian higher education students report that they are falling behind on their studies due to the pandemic.
  • Socioeconomic factors such as income driving 2.3x more disengagement among students.
  • 51 per cent of students say their preference and attitude for online learning has increased.

Sydney, Australia – 29 September 2020 – New global research from Instructure reveals the changing views on student success, with 68 per cent of Australian higher education students feeling that they are falling behind on their studies due to the pandemic.

The new report, “The State of Student Success and Engagement in Higher Education,” was issued by Instructure, the makers of Canvas Learning Management System, based on a survey it commissioned from Hanover Research of 550 Australian students and administrators.

The research reveals how socioeconomic disparities influence the success of students more than ever during the pandemic and have impacted student engagement. Students from lower-income families are 2.3x less likely to be engaged in their online and remote studies. 

Career preparation has also been highlighted as a critical measure of student success ensuring that students can work at their own pace in mastering a new skill that will prepare them for their future careers. Work readiness was the number one priority for students as they work towards graduation with 77 per cent rating it very important or extremely important, followed closely by holistic development and securing a job they’re studying in (72 per cent equally). 51 per cent have also stated their preference for online learning has increased due to the emergence of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Although 2020 has created strenuous moments of transition, it has also opened up opportunities and accelerated changes already taking place in higher education. It has ensured an increased focus in preparing students with the life skills and credentials they need to enter the workplace of the future,” said Christopher Bradman, General Manager, APAC at Instructure.

“Our higher education institutions, TAFEs, and universities have become much more agile in decision-making, broken down traditional silos, and caused us to all re-examine our priorities during this time. We know that in Australia, we are building a preference for digital pedagogy as a result,” said Bradman. 

The Impact of COVID-19 Has Created Immense Challenges

Nearly 68 per cent of Australian students report that they are falling behind on their studies due to the pandemic. When asked about the specific impacts of COVID-19, students identified its impact on the following: student success (82 per cent), student engagement (84 per cent), and their personal engagement with studies (72 per cent). 

While COVID-19 has negatively impacted many opinions and attitudes related to education, it has positively affected opinions toward online learning. 63 per cent of administrators and 56 per cent of students say they have a more positive opinion toward online learning.

This year Australian universities have come under particular pressure from the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak due to the ban on entry to students who had travelled internationally and not able to return due to the lockdown. The University of Sydney had to act quickly to ensure they were still able to support their students who were unable to return to the campus.

“We had to work quickly to ensure all of our classes and exams were available online through Instructure’s Canvas Learning Management System,” said Adam Bridgeman, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sydney. “We became a hybrid model of teaching very quickly, which now allows students to access their education by their preference of on-campus or online. By having a scalable platform like Canvas we can ensure our student’s education is not disrupted now or in the future.”

Socioeconomic disparities are impacting engagement

Students who identified as growing up in upper economic class households were 3.2 x more likely to report feeling extremely engaged in their coursework than their lower-income peers (39 per cent v. 12 per cent). As COVID-19 forced institutions to move from in-person to online, students from financially disadvantaged homes were 5.8x times more likely to report struggling to stay engaged during remote learning, compared to their upper economic class peers 53 per cent vs. 9 per cent. 

Survey Methodology

The State of Student Success survey was developed in coordination with Hanover Research. The survey was designed to understand how higher education students and administrators define student success and how that varies around the globe. The survey was fielded in June 2020, cleaned in R, and analysed through MarketSight. After fielding and data cleaning, this study consisted of 7,070 qualified, completed responses. The data was cut into crosstabs by region, country, and role, along with various additional subsegments, such as socioeconomic status. Statistical significance testing was performed across segments with a 95 per cent confidence level using a Z-Test with p = less than 0.05.

About Instructure

Instructure helps people grow from the first day of school to the last day of work. More than 30 million people use the Canvas Learning Management Platform for schools and the Bridge Employee Development Platform for businesses. More information at

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