Bratislava, 11/11/2021 – With the rapidly deteriorating pandemic situation, more and more higher education workplaces are moving to a distance form of education. The survey of the Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education (SAAVŠ) Academic Quarter shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has already negatively affected the quality of higher education education in previous semesters, when only more than half of respondents (59%) stated that they acquired comparable knowledge in most subjects as in full-time teaching. Teachers’ experience also suggests that distance learning – introduced as a result of a pandemic – may create more favorable conditions for cheating with inappropriate teaching and testing methods. At the same time, the pandemic worsens the possibility of building relationships between first graders. At the same time, it is the relationships with classmates that most often help the first graders to adapt to higher education studies. Deteriorated adaptation may subsequently lead to early school leaving, but in Slovakia, before a pandemic, about a third of first graders (bachelor’s and combined studies) left school early.  At the same time, the lack of a sense of belonging to the community negatively affects how students perceive their studies.
The Academic Quarter survey pointed to shortcomings in distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. These findings are crucial, as in connection with the pandemic situation, more and more higger education workplaces are moving to a distance form of teaching. The first major problem seems to be that only a little over half (59%) of the respondents  indicated in the questionnaire that they had acquired comparable knowledge in most subjects as during full-time teaching. The reason may be that more than a third of respondents (38%) lacked direct contact with teachers in most subjects. They mostly sent them texts and assignments and the students then sent the completed assignments. At the same time, more than a quarter of respondents (28%) had to supplement their knowledge from out-of-school sources to successfully master most subjects. In addition, second- and higher-grade students were able to compare distance learning with previous full-time teaching. More than a third (36%) of them perceived that in a minority of subjects the method of assessment (grading) took into account the specifics of distance learning. “These findings indicate the need to help teachers develop those pedagogical and didactic-methodological skills that will help them better manage distance learning,” said Renáta Hall, the analytical team coordinator fo the Agency. It also follows that when moving to distance learning, care must be taken “that teachers communicate directly with students, that students have the necessary materials available, and that their assessment takes into account the specifities of distance learning,” adds Renáta Hall.
Anecdotal information about the experience of university teachers suggests that cheating was more frequent during the examination of students’ knowledge during distance learning during a pandemic. The fact that fraud has been relatively widespread in recent years is also shown by the data of the Academic Quarter survey, where more than half of the respondents (56%) encountered, for example, students writing off during tests or assignments. According to Peter Maňo, an analyst of the Agency, “the scope for cheating could be narrowed if, for example, it was assessed whether the students understood the material covered and not the findings. However, if it is only a reproduction of the curriculum, then students also have a greater opportunity to write off or otherwise cheat. ”However, less than two-thirds of respondents (63%) think that their education focused more on understanding the curriculum than on the measured knowledge.
Another area that was probably negatively affected by the pandemic was the creation of new relationships in universities. As many as a third of respondents did not feel part of the community of students and teachers in their school. This may have been influenced by the fact that students did not spend physical time at school and only about half of them (56%) spent time with their classmates out of school. Survey data showed a link between the sense of belonging to the school community and the perception of study: for example, for graduating students – who felt part of the school community – 64% said that most or all teachers help to fulfill their potential. For those who did not have the mentioned sense of belonging, it was only 30%. “Universities should therefore not only think about mediating as much of the curriculum as possible in their teaching. They should also look for ways to help develop the university community and relationships between students and teachers, as well as between students – including online, unless the pandemic situation and health protection allow otherwise. The feeling of belonging to the school, built on rich relationships, goes hand in hand with gaining better knowledge, ”adds Renáta Hall.
Restricting mutual contacts can have a particularly negative impact on first graders of bachelor´s and joint studies. Only one-six of them declared that they did not need any help in adapting to higher education studies. The others – within the mentioned first graders – most often got the necessary help from their classmates. This happens to up to 75% of them. Thus, the absence of contacts can also reduce the success of first graders in their studies and increase the rate of early school leaving. We will see whether this has happened only after analyzing the data for the past year.
It is crucial to realize that in the spring of 2022, the entire years of university studies, which completed it almost entirely at a distance, will graduate. “At the beginning of the pandemic, mass online teaching for higher education was a shock experiment. Now, however, it is important that distance / combined education methods provide full-fledged teaching, and also that they significantly strengthen the building of the higher education community. The survey showed that students’ sense of belonging has positive consequences for the perception of the quality of education. The positive of online forms of education can be seen, for example, the possibility of involving speakers from abroad or from practice, or the fact that it is possible to return to video recordings of lessons, ”concludes Robert Redhammer, Chair of the Executive Board of the Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education.
About the Academic Quarter survey
The academic Quarter is the largest survey of students’ views in Slovakia. The survey is focused on the first and second degree of higher education study and covers all fields of study in Slovakia. Data collection took place from 30 April to 31 May 2021. It was attended by almost 20,000 students (19,983). Among the respondents were 4,998 bachelor’s and master’s degree graduates. There were 6,320 students in the first (first and second degree and joint study) in the sample. The results of the survey are available in an interactive application at: https://prieskum.saavs.sk/vysledky/
About the Slovak Acreditation Agency for Higher Education
The Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education is an independent public institution that evaluates the quality of education and especially the effectiveness of its assurance by higher education institutions. The Agency awards the accreditation to higher education institutions to provide education and supports the development of quality education.
Renáta Hall, firstname.lastname@example.org, phone number: 0948 988 267
 Annual report on the state of higher education for the year 2017, 2018, 2019. Available at:: https://www.minedu.sk/vyrocne-spravy-o-stave-vysokeho-skolstva/
 These were only respondents in the higher than the first year, as freshmen did not have experience with full-time teaching.