Monday, November 15, 2010

UCD Attendance Survey

A short while ago I posted about lecture attendance at Irish universities. Recent research by myself and others from Geary has shown that approximately 12% of Irish university students claim to attend all of their lectures. Overall, the mean-level of percentage lectures attended is 83% in Round 2 of the Irish Universities Study, and 84% in Round 3. This is a self-reported behaviour, and one that is subject to much comparison of anecdote amongst academic instructors. Furthermore, there is reasonable ground to suspect self-reported lecture attendance to be over-stated due to the phenomenon of social desirability bias. Social desirability bias is a term used to describe the tendency of respondents to reply in a manner that will be viewed favourably by others; see Bound et al. (2001) on Measurement Error in Surveys for a discussion (Handbook of Econometrics: Vol. 5).

While benchmarking against official data is difficult in the case of lecture attendance, a data-comparison can be made with a comprehensive attendance survey (measured by head-count) that was conducted at UCD during the academic year 2008/09. Under the guidance of Gabrielle Kelly (2010), students in an undergraduate Survey Sampling class carried out a survey to estimate the attendance rate at lectures in science modules in UCD. Only first-years in the UCD College of Engineering, Mathematical and Physical Sciences and the UCD College of Life Science were included (this was due to student drop-out in first-year being prevalent in these colleges). The overall attendance rate was 47.3% (+ 4.4%). However, there is also a (statistically significant) decrease in attendance rate as class size increases. The figure below (taken from the report on the UCD Attendance Survey; 2009) shows a plot of attendance rate vs. enrolment. The higher attendance rates between 70% and 80% occurred for smaller class sizes of between 30 and 160, whereas the lower rates of 15% to 35% occurred for larger class sizes of between 185 and 485.

It should be noted that there are some instances of attendance rates above 80% (in the UCD Attendance Survey), which is close to the mean-level of percentage lectures attended in Rounds 2 and 3 of the Irish University Study. The Irish Universities Study includes students from all courses but the UCD Attendance Survey only includes students enrolled in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) courses. These STEM courses have a greater amount of lectures to attend, which could possibly result in lower levels of attendance (compared to non-STEM courses). The above consideration would lead one to expect a higher level of percentage lectures attended in the Irish University Study, compared to the UCD Attendance Survey.

In relation to potentially unresolved concerns following from the comparison of anecdote amongst academic instructors, it should also be noted that students may be attending more of their lectures in the recession than they used to beforehand. University students in the UK study for two hours and 12 minutes more (per week) now than they did two years ago (in 2007), according to the Higher Education Policy Institute (2009). Given lower levels of labour demand in the part-time jobs market, there is certainly less opportunity for students to allocate their time to work (i.e. diminished opportunity-cost of study-time). In addition, the evolving crisis in the graduate labour market may motivate students to be more patient; and achieve higher academic standards (1 in 3 men under the age of 25 are currently unemployed in Ireland).

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