I attended a 2 day conference in York, organised by the Higher Education Academy, looking at the results of funded projects that investigate ways to retain students in Higher Education, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. It was a beautiful, sunny campus (with geese and everything) and offered a great opportunity to catch up with existing colleagues and meet new ones. I presented a poster on the work we’ve been doing with ‘Headstart’ looking at successful transition for widening participation students and this was really well received. There was also representation from the great and the good, Estelle Morris (former labour education secretary) and Vincent Tinto (a key figure in US educational theory and policy) so I felt very privileged to be a part of it. I thought I’d share with you some of the initial findings.
In the UK only 1 in 12 or 8% leave HE during their first year of study but surveys undertaken by the What Works? project teams across 4 institutions found that between 33% and 42% of students think about withdrawing from HE.
High rates of withdrawal may have reputational, ethical and legal implications for universities and colleges, as well as personal and financial disadvantages for individuals.
In terms of economics, when a student leaves, this represents lost income for the institution. From 2012/3 if a full-time student withdraws from an institution charging £7,500 feeds, this would be equivalent to a lost income of £24,300 (not to mention the lost residential costs)
At the heart of successful retention and success is a strong sense of belonging in HE for all students and the academic sphere is the more important site for nurturing this sense of belonging and this is achieved through:
o Supportive peer relations
o Meaningful interactions between staff and students
o Developing knowledge, confidence and identity as successful HE learners
o A HE experience relevant to students’ interests and future goals
At Brunel, the current figures for under-represented groups (mature, care leavers, first in the family, disabled, those from vocational courses e.g. Access, BTEC) who do not complete their programme stands at 15.7% and the University plan to lower this to 11.7% by 2016/17.
The one thing everyone at the conference was in agreement over is that this is the responsibility of the whole university and that professional services have a key role to play in developing belonging and ensuring student retention and success, particularly amongst underrepresented groups.. In the words of Vincent Tinto ‘access without support is not opportunity’! I have all these ideas now – I just need to do something about it!