Learning and Teaching in Action: Open Issue

Group of students at a computer

 

Destination Choice and MMU Cheshire Students

Susan Curtis

This article describes research that was undertaken at the start of this academic year. The objective of this research was to investigate the image first year students had of MMU Cheshire during their first few weeks in the Faculty, the reasons why they had chosen MMU Cheshire, influences on their decision, information sources used in the decision and their evaluation of MMU Cheshire as a destination. This work formed part of a larger study which investigated factors that influenced the destination choice of students who lived locally.

Methodology

A survey of 274 MMUC first year students was carried out during class time, during the first weeks of their programme in October 2007. The study surveyed all students attending lectures for core subjects for BA (Hons) Contemporary Theatre and Performance, BA (Hons) Joint Honours (various subjects), HND Business Management, HND Sport Management, BA (Hons) Primary Education, and BA (Hons) Sports Coaching and Development.

Students were asked to complete a questionnaire entitled Questionnaire on Perceptions of MMU Cheshire. Click to download the full questionnaire in pdf format. Questions in Section 1 relate to the student profile; while those in Section 2 provide information on widening participation indicators. Section 3 contains questions about their destination choice, and in Section 4 their knowledge of MMU Cheshire.

Findings

The departments referred to in the tables are as follows:

BMS: Department of Business and Management Studies
J-H: The joint honours courses
CA: Department of Contemporary Arts
Ed: Institute of Education
ESS: Department of Exercise and Sports Science

1. Profile of students surveyed

The age profile of students surveyed is shown in Table 1. This shows that the Institute of Education has the oldest students in the Faculty on average, and ESS has the youngest. The Primary Education course tends to have more mature women students than other courses. ESS has more students who move straight from school to university than other departments.

Table 1: Ages of students (percentages)
 

Percentage of students at the age shown

Age (years)

BMS

J-H

CA

Ed

ESS

18

23

38

41

50

49

19

28

33

32

18

30

20

28

9

15

8

9

21

12

2

6

10

9

22

0

0

3

0

1

23

3

7

0

0

2

24

2

0

0

1

0

25+

4

7

3

12

0

Average age in years

20.2

20.0

19.5

20.86

18.9

 

The gender mix of the students surveyed is shown in Figure 2. The highest proportion of females is found in the Institute of Education, while the Department of Exercise and Sports Science has the highest proportion of males.

Figure 2: Gender mix of students surveyed

The percentage of students living at home is shown in Figure 3. There is a distinct difference between BA (Hons) Primary Education students and other students in terms of the proportion who live at home. Joint honours students come second in this league, but with less than one third living at home, their numbers are not comparable with the three quarters of Education students who remain at home while studying. The Department of Contemporary Arts has the lowest proportion of students not residing in the family home whilst studying. Previous research in Business and Management Studies showed a higher proportion of students living at home (33%) than is currently the case (Curtis and Klapper, 2005).

Figure 3: Percentage of students living at home

The nationalities of the students surveyed are shown in Table 2. The Department of Business and Management Studies stands out as having the most international students. All joint honours students surveyed were taking a business related subject, but only a small proportion of these were international students.

Table 2: Nationality of students surveyed (percentages)
Nationality BMS J-H CA Ed ESS
British 66 93 100 100 98
Other EU 8 5 0 0 1
Non EU 25 2 0 0 1

 

Finally, respondents were asked to note the school or college they had previously attended on the questionnaire. These were extremely varied and have defied being placed in a table. It was noticeable that the majority of students go to university in ones and twos, and are either the only person in their school to attend MMUC or one of a very few.

2. Widening participation indicators

Responses to the question ‘Are you the first person in your family to go to university’ are shown in Figure 4. The figure shows that it is not possible to define a cohort of students who could be considered to represent widening participation. If the fact that a student is the first in their family to attend university can be taken as an indicator, then it seems that MMUC are successful in this. Over half of Exercise and Sport Science students and Joint Honours students come from families who have no history of attending university. All departments have a significant proportion of students who are the first in their family to go to university.

Figure 4: Were you the first person in your family to go to University?

The pre-entry qualifications of the students surveyed are shown in Table 3. One joint honours student had an Irish Leaving Certificate and one had a Scottish Higher Certificate. Two Education students had GNVQ qualifications. Indicators of widening participation may be students entering university with Access to HE qualifications and Foundation Year students. BA (Hons) Primary Education students had the highest proportion of Access to HE students, whilst Business and Management students had the highest proportion of Foundation Year students.

Table 3: What qualifications did you get in order to enter university?
QualificationNumber of students with this qualification*
  BMS J-H CA Ed ESS
GCE A levels 50 73 74 83 56
Access to HE 3 4 3 17 3
Foundation Year 14 4 0 1 3

*(some respondents entered more than one qualification; therefore some totals exceed 100%)

The responses to the question about personal problems requiring support are shown in Figure 5. The Department of Contemporary Arts had the highest proportion of students saying ‘yes’ to having personal problems. However, the nature of these was not asked about and is therefore unknown.

Figure 5: Did you have any personal problems requiring help and support?

Responses to a question about need for academic support are shown in Figure 6. Again, Contemporary Arts had the highest proportion of students saying that they needed academic support. Comments by students on receiving support were mixed, with several students giving yes and no, whilst others said ‘not yet’, ‘tutor has been very supportive’ and ‘being tested’. As the survey was carried out very early in the academic year, support was mostly in place very quickly. Those who specified what support they needed all mentioned dyslexia, many of these students also ticked ‘help for the disabled’ as a reason for choice of university.

Figure 6: Do you consider you have any needs for academic support?

When questioned about careers guidance or support when choosing university (Figure 7) some students had received advice from careers advisors, some from Connexions and some from subject teachers such as their PE or drama teacher. The careers advisor at one sixth form College appears to be actively recommending MMU Cheshire to sports students while tutors at another are recommending MMU Cheshire for Business to overseas students. Tutors at a third college were mentioned as being supportive and show league tables to students. However, as Figure 7 shows, the majority of students did not consider that they received any guidance or support from school or college. Most schools and colleges would probably see their role as supporting the completion of application forms, but not to direct students to specific universities.

Figure 7: Did you have any careers guidance or support when choosing your university?

3. Choosing MMUC

When asked if MMUC was their first choice of university (Figure 8) the BA (Hons) Primary Education course stands out as a very desirable course. Almost one third of Business and Management students did not choose MMU Cheshire as their preferred destination, though this is not far below other departments.

Figure 8: Was MMUC your first choice of university?

Students were asked to write down some words which indicated their image of MMUC. The responses were collated and the incidence of descriptive words counted (see Table 4)

Table 4: Image of MMUC (as at 2nd or 3rd week of teaching)
Word used in description Number of times mentioned

BMS
N=65

J-H
N=64
CA
N=34
Ed
N=50
ESS
N=80
Quiet 25 17 15 18 13
Fun 18 12 15 15 37
Friendly 15 14 9 28 14
Attractive 10 4 8 6 6
Boring 6 1 1 1 0
Peaceful 5 3 2 1 2
Small 5 0 0 18 3
Interesting 4 3 1 4 2
Exciting 3 5 1 4 2
Helpful staff 3 3 0 4 1
Lively 3 1 6 1 0
Welcoming/warm and cosy 2 0 0 7 1
Good accommodation/ comfortable 2 1 2 0 5
Nice people 2 1 9 1 4
Relaxed 3 1 0 1 2

 

Single comments included:

BMS: good choice of course, busy, hard work, convenient, not many places to go, feel looked after, student oriented, internet not very good, kitchen is dirty, I always speak Chinese, small Chinese community, wicked night life in Hanley, got everything you need, scary, lonely, comfortable and good location.

CA: average nightlife, not a lot to do, need to get people socialising more, rural, responsible, its not like Manchester, community feel, intimate, tired, where’s the party?, spacious, great new experiences, happy atmosphere, organised, hard work.

ESS: frantic, opportunities, normal, good university, good location, lots of greenery, lots to do, busy, efficient, journey down M6, community feel, local, good course, organised.

J-H: good place to study, not much fun, well organised, scary, homely, good choice, good atmosphere, sporting, too far out of Manchester, unhelpful, local, isolated.

Ed: scholarly, modern, hard work, lovely, nice tutors, accessible, local, rural, professional, prestigious, supportive, inspiring and enjoyable.

The majority of comments were positive, with the majority of the students giving several positive comments which made very agreeable reading. Almost half (46%) of ESS considered MMUC to be ‘fun’, and 56% of IoE students said that MMUC is ‘friendly’. As this represents an open, qualitative question, the percentages are probably lower than if the respondents had been required to tick boxes in response to a quantitative question.

Reasons for students choosing to come to MMUC are shown in Table 5.

Table 5: Why did you come to MMUC?
Reason given Percentage of students giving this reason
BMS J-H CS Ed ESS
Offered the course I wanted 29 56 49 50 46
Close to home 2 18 12 65 16
It's a good university/reputation 17 7 3 24 16
Failed to get into the uni I wanted 5 0 12 1 1
I got offered a place here 6 1 3 0 0
Impressed on Open Day 5 7 9 0 10
Withdrew from other university 3 0 3 0 0
I thought I was going to be in Man 3 4 3 0 1
Good sports facilities 0 4 0 0 13
Good accommodation 0 4 6 6 6
To get away from home 0 4 3 0 0
Friends have recommended it 0 4 6 8 4

 

This shows that ‘the course’ and ‘being close to home’ were the most frequent reasons, with some students also providing MMUC’s reputation as a good university as a major reason in their choice of university.

Reasons which were given only once included:

BMS students: good sport facilities, nice accommodation, good resources, parking, childcare, feel good factor, good size classes, looked friendly and interesting, I liked it when I came for Open Day, recommended by friends and family.

CA students: need a degree, I liked the university after my audition, where my fiancée is studying, they sent me leaflets during clearing so I called them and really like the course, wanted to experience a different lifestyle.

J-H students: impressive campus, attractive area, good security, music staff, the location.

ESS students: friendly atmosphere, social life, I like the teaching style.

Ed: nice university.

When students were asked ‘What influenced your decision?’ (Table 6) the most important factor in university choice was the course and this was common to all subject areas. Second in importance for BMS students was the information supplied by the university. For CA students accommodation and information supplied by the university were ranked equal highest. Teaching reputation and academic reputation were second in importance for ESS and IoE students respectively.

Table 6: What influenced your decision?
Influence Percentage of students giving this reason
BMS J-H CA Ed ESS
Choice of course 89 93 100 100 95
Information supplied by the university 66 71 76 53 49
Accommodation for the first year 63 56 76 16 58
Course leads to job after graduation 63 60 62 82 61
Social life within the university 63 44 71 31 60
Academic reputation 63 56 76 80 69
Teaching reputation 58 53 71 86 54
Academic support facilities 53 38 53 45 53
Location 52 62 47 61 45
Course flexibility 48 56 65 33 43
Entry requirements 48 56 56 61 53
Distance from home 47 47 35 78 53
Social life nearby 42 47 50 24 44
Research reputation 38 22 38 43 34
Cost 38 38 35 39 23
First university to offer a place 38 27 32 18 21
Student placements 34 22 15 65 35
Guidance from parents 33 20 21 24 39
Friends going there at the same time 30 9 3 8 21
Amenities of the university 28 33 53 47 44
Competition for a place 14 22 50 33 28
Reputation with the disabled 12 4 24 8 11

 

4. Knowledge of MMU Cheshire

When students were asked if they had been to MMUC before starting their course (Figure 9) and for what reason (Table 7) most of the Contemporary Arts and Education students had attended Open Days for auditions and interviews and had therefore visited the campus before starting. The lowest proportion of students who saw the campus before committing to it were in the Department of Business and Management Studies.

Figure 9: Had you ever been on the campus before starting at MMU Cheshire?

Table 7: if yes, for what reason did you visit the campus (not in percentages)
  MS J-H CA ED ESS
Open Day 16 15 8 15 28
To see what it was like 2 1 6 3 4
Interview/audition 0 3 10 14 0
Visited friends/relative 0 5 1 5 0

 

Students were asked if they knew about the joint honours programme at MMUC. Their answers (Figure 10) show that, after two or three weeks at university, a proportion of MMUC students were still unaware of the existence of joint honours courses, although these were in the minority. Some joint honours students responded that they did not know that there was a joint honours course! This was due to the researcher including HND Sports Management with the joint honours students when surveyed.

Figure 10: Did you know that it is possible to do a joint honours course at MMU Cheshire?

Students were asked about sources of information they used when deciding on their destination choice. Their responses (Table 8) showed that the most important marketing tools were the university web site, the prospectus, word of mouth recommendations and Open Days.

Table 8: Which information sources did you use in your choice of university?
  Percentage of students giving this response
Information source BMS J-H CA ED ESS
University web site 72 73 79 81 66
University prospectus 70 78 79 79 61
University open day 63 60 76 73 74
Friend and fellow students 59 31 53 81 46
Word of mouth recommendation 56 47 71 79 61
Careers service 38 13 18 21 21
University league tables 34 18 29 33 16
Careers convention 30 16 12 13 15
Newspaper features 17 4 12 2 14

 

Finally, students were asked if they were happy with MMUC. Their responses and reasons are shown in Figure 11 and Table 9. In all cases, a big majority of students stated that they were happy with MMUC. These results are very pleasing. Table 9 again demonstrates the students’ appreciation of friendly staff and students, an interesting course and good lecturers.

Figure 11: Are you happy with MMUC?

Table 9: Reasons for saying that you are happy with MMUC
  Number of students giving this reason
Reason BMS
N=64
J-H
N=45
CA
N=34
ED
N=49
ESS
Staff are kind/friendly/helpful 18 5 8 13 4
Interesting course/lectures 17 12 19 20 21
Friendly students 13 11 6 27 27
Staff are professional/good lecturers 11 3 2 10 8
Good environment 8 3 6 4 4
Good accommodation 5 8 3 2 9
Everything easy to understand 4 0 1 3 0
Table 9 does not completely convey the positive feelings expressed on the questionnaires. Many students gave multiple reasons for being happy at MMU Cheshire.
"Halls are nice, lessons are interesting, and tutors are good." Coaching and Sport Development student, age 19, from Buxton
"Because the tutors are friendly and helpful. I can understand the work because tutors explain things well and I have made lots of friends." 20 year old Business student from Pendleton College
"Bit more lively that I expected, friendly people. I like my course so far. Good, clean accommodation." 19 year old Joint Honours HRM and psychology student
"It is a small campus, which means we are a closer community. It is friendly and fun. The course I am studying is currently of a good standard." 18 year old student, Contemporary Theatre and Performance
"Everybody friendly from tutors to canteen staff. Run very efficiently." 43 year old Primary Education student from Mid Cheshire College

 

Single comments given by students included:

BMS students: cheap accommodation, lively, peaceful, university provides a lot of help, really easy to settle in, better than in China, more mature atmosphere, nightlife good, support, provided the exact university experience I’ve been hoping to experience, one of the best universities in the area, I like Cheshire (London student).

CA students: in control of work and preparation, short bus ride to campus which is free, everyone is really friendly, they helped me switch course and when unhappy very supportive, the lecturers actually get to know us, lecturers know their subject well, meets my expectations.

ESS students: I enjoy the rugby socials, good sport reputation, social events, there’s always help available, everything I expected and more, the hockey team has made me feel welcome.

J-H students: better to concentrate on my studies, feel at home, enjoying the badminton.

Ed students: allows me to fulfil my dream of being a teacher, I enjoy being here, I fit in, welcoming, (also 3 students mentioned how helpful and effective the induction week had been for this course).

Reasons for being unhappy

BMS students: too far to go to Manchester (x2), boring, campus too small, very little guidance, not much getting to know other people on the course during the first two weeks, very quiet, I live in Manchester, travelling every day is not easy.

CA students: the nightlife is so lame, do not like the course at the moment, there isn’t enough going on, living with people is causing a few problems, not enough room on the bus.

ESS students: Booth Hall is too far away, always changing timetable.

J-H students: too far from Manchester, parking very bad, hard to find (class)rooms, there needs to be more interaction for mature students.

Ed students: It could do with more facilities, it just gets lonely, I need to settle in a bit more.

Summary of MMUC student survey

MMUC consists of a majority of positive, happy students who are enjoying their course and their friends and staff. Very few complain of being bored and lonely, and this may well be a temporary problem when it occurs. There are also still a few students who thought that they were going to Manchester until arriving in Crewe. The survey emphasises the importance of the university website, the prospectus and Open Days as marketing tools. The website in particular was praised by several students as being of high quality. The positive response from first year students is a testament to the dedication of staff at MMUC.

Reference

Curtis, S. and Klapper, R. (2005) Financial Support Systems; the student experience in England and France, International Journal of Social Economics, Vol 32, Nos 1 and 2, pp. 121-132.

about the author

Susan Curtis
Business and Management Studies, MMU Cheshire

e-mail: s.curtis@mmu.ac.uk
telephone: 0161 247 5238

Download this article as a .pdf file

Summer 2008
ISSN 1477-1241