Tampere University of Technology

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Gathering first year students' experiences by mystery shopping method

Research output: Other conference contributionPaper, poster or abstractProfessional


Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2018
Publication typeNot Eligible
EventEuropean First Year Experience 2018 - Utrecht, The Netherlands, Utrecht, Netherlands
Duration: 25 Jun 201828 Jun 2018


ConferenceEuropean First Year Experience 2018
Internet address


Mystery shopping is commonly used in retail stores, restaurants etc., but rarely used in universities. In Tampere University of Technology we decided to try mystery shopping as a new way of gathering a holistic view of first year students’ transition phase. Altogether 65 first year students were acting as mystery shoppers, reporting their personal experiences of teaching, student services and facilities in campus and learning culture as a whole during their first six study weeks.

What do we really know about the students’ experiences and feelings after they have entered the university? Is there another way besides the traditional questionnaire to gather the first year students’ points of views of how their transition from high school to university has gone?

In Tampere University of Technology (TUT) we decided to try mystery shopping as a new way to collect information about the new students’ transition phase. Mystery shopping is commonly used in retail stores, hotels, movie theaters etc. The methods vary widely but the main idea is to use trained individuals to act as a customer and report on their experiences in an objective way (MRS, 2014). In higher education, however, the possibilities of mystery shopping have largely been neglected. It has even been claimed (Douglas, 2006) that the appropriateness of using mystery shopping in higher education institutes would be a long way off.

In spite of the prejudice towards the mystery shopping in an academic settings, TUT organized a mystery shopping experiment in 2015 that covered all services in TUT campus. The experiences of that pilot turned out to be useful and in autumn 2017 the University launched another mystery shopping pilot which was focused solely on the first year students and their experiences and transition into university.

The Student Union of TUT recruited altogether 65 first year students (four to six students from each Faculty) to act as mystery shoppers during their first study weeks. They reported their personal experiences of the means by which the university aims to make the transitions phase easier for the students as well as their view of teaching, pedagogical culture, student services and facilities in campus and the learning culture as a whole.

Compared with the traditional questionnaires, the reports of the mystery shoppers gave a more holistic view of the student’ perceptions of the transition phase. It also provided deeper understanding of issues where the University has succeeded well and of those which need to be improved in the future.


  • university, higher education, first year, mystery shopping