Why this is important
Despite a high quality student intake, the University’s retention rates continue to give cause for concern. This not only has serious implications for the institution in terms of income and reputation, but the emotional and financial cost to students, especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, is huge. At an institutional level, research evidence indicates that there is no single solution (Jones, 2008, Yorke and Longden, 2008) – interventions and approaches therefore need to be co-ordinated.
Based on the HEFCE student lifecycle model, these pages offer some approaches that may be considered and provide links to relevant research articles and examples of good practice within Queen’s and in other universities.
Using institutional and subject-specific data, Schools should try to identify the reasons for poor retention and if these are related to the University experience, take appropriate action at the earliest possible opportunity.
Peelo and Wareham (2002) argue that withdrawal is more likely when:
The current economic climate makes these even more influential – students and parents are much more likely to question the value of their investment in a university education. Further factors identified by Peelo and Wareham include the decline in staff/student interaction caused by rising student numbers and the resultant impersonalisation of higher education. Modularisation also plays a part: courses are often dominated by end of semester assessment and this reduces opportunities for formative assessment and feedback. Multiple small, formative assessment tasks in semester one are critical to student success and give an early indication of potential problems.
Research (at Glasgow Caledonian, Kent and Southampton Institute) confirms that poor attendance (regardless of the reason) is very significant; efforts to monitor and improve attendance improve retention rates (Dublin Institute of Technology has doubled its retention rate by intervening if a student has missed 3 classes in a row). Attendance monitoring in Computer Science has improved student exam performance, degree classifications and decreased drop-out rates http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/AcademicStudentAffairs/CentreforEducationalDevelopment/CurriculumDevelopment/TESS/
Students who fail to progress or drop out often cite the wrong choice of course as the reason. Staff involved in recruitment and marketing activities are therefore encouraged to engage more pro-actively with Careers Teachers and secondary level pupils in Lower Sixth (or earlier) forms to enable potential students to make informed choices based on up-to-date, accurate information on all aspects of the degree programme(s) offered. In particular, this should include details of subject knowledge or competence that are necessary for success at degree level, even if these are not prerequisites. It should explain what studying a particular subject at university entails and how the approach to learning differs from school. This should help to ensure more realistic student expectations. (Queen’s Management School liaises with schools and Area Learning Networks to ensure that AS Level students are clear on the differentiating characteristics of its programmes). Contact Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions for expert advice: http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/StudentPlus/MarketingRecruitmentandAdmissions/#d.en.224523
Review admissions criteria (grades and prerequisites) – raising the entry tariff can have a positive impact on retention rates. Architecture has done this successfully.
Consider setting up an online discussion room for students to meet and socialize pre-entry: see Swansea Metropolitan’s ‘Heads Up!’ initiative at
Queen’s Welcome Week and induction have been enhanced and now offer a host of opportunities for new entrants to discover the many ways they can get involved with the Queen’s community, to get to know their tutors, their peers and to learn about the range of support services and extra-curricular activities that are in place to make their Queen’s experience a great one. Contact Student Affairs for further information on Welcome Week and Induction: http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/sgc/WelcomeWeek/
View a transition video at:
View the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences transition video at Making the Transition to University
‘The library uncut’ – a retention project that produced student-led video guides, now accessible on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, the Student Computing website, QOL and the Prospective Student Portal.
The first 6 weeks of first semester constitute a crucial period in the student journey – engagement then is critical to student success and progression. Here are some approaches to consider:
HEFCE (2002) Performance indicators in higher education in the UK, 1999-2000, 2000-1. Bristol: Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Jones, R. (2008), Student retention and success, Research Synthesis for the Higher Education Academy: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ourwork/teachingandlearning/inclusion/alldisplay?type=resources&newid=ourwork/inclusion/wprs/WPRS_retention_synthesis&site=york.
Northedge, A. (2003) Enabling participation in academic discourse Teaching in Higher Education, Vol. 8, No. 2, 2003, pp. 169 -180, Carfax, Taylor and Francis.
Peelo, M. and Wareham, T. (eds.) (2002) Failing Students in higher education Maidenhead, UK, SRHE/Open University Press.
Tinto, V. (1975) Dropout from higher education: a theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research. 45 (10, pp 89 – 125.
Tinto, V. (1997), “Classrooms as communities: exploring the educational character of student persistence”, Journal of higher Education, 68 (6), pp 599-623.
Yorke, M. and Longden, B. (2004), Retention and Student Success in Higher Education, Maidenhead, Open University Press.
Yorke, M. and Longden, B. (2008) The first year experience of higher education in the UK. Final report. York: Higher Education Academy.
Higher Education Academy resources on retention and student success: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/retention-and-success
Graham Gibb’s report on ‘Dimensions of Quality’ (2010): http://search3.openobjects.com/kb5/hea/evidencenet/resource.page?record=12nH2AFIYcc
The Paul Hamlyn Foundation Retention Grants Programme (in partnership with HEA, HEFCE and Action on Access: http://www.phf.org.uk/page.asp?id=1051
‘Factors that contribute to student engagement’ (Supporting Student Attainment Sub-group, 13 April 2010) (QUB only)
With thanks to Professor Sally Browne for her kind permission to use material from her Guest Speaker workshop on ‘Improving Student Retention: Research and Practice’ held at Queen’s University on 18 April 2011: http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/AcademicStudentAffairs/CentreforEducationalDevelopment/ProfessionalDevelopment/LearningandTeachingEvents/#gss
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