Retention is an important issue, not just for the students, but also to ensure the success of both local and national communities. Enabling students to stay on at university and obtain qualifications helps promote personal achievement and economic security, national competitiveness in a global economy and better opportunities for disadvantaged student groups.
The most recent report from HESA shows that 7.4% of first year students in the UK dropped out of university in 2015/16 – a number which institutions across the country are trying to reduce.
In order to achieve a deeper understanding of retention issues, the HEA is currently coordinating the National Retention Project, which provides support and networking opportunities to help participating institutions to address common challenges.
The 14 institutions, who participated as part of the first cohort, benefitted from a retention audit to benchmark practice against the HEA Retention Framework, received bespoke feedback from expert consultants and collaborated with others at national networking events.
One institution which has taken part in the retention project is the University of Wolverhampton, which has a non-continuation rate in the first year of 13.2%.
Dr Patricia Davies, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, is coordinating the University’s involvement with the project. Patricia was particularly interested in taking part since Computer Science has the biggest non-continuation rate nationally – 9.5% according to the latest figures from the Higher Education Authority (HESA). She said that having the space and time to focus on retention has been invaluable.
She explained: “We needed to give retention a focus as we knew we had a problem, particularly in certain departments. We have had discussions about it, but this depended to be within groups inside our University rather than between Faculties or with other institutions. We decided to take part so that we could actually stop and focus on what we were doing to address retention.”
Patricia and colleagues attended the launch event in April, followed by the networking eventing in May, and had an evaluation with HEA staff, which she said was very useful for data collection and dissemination.
Following on from these events, Patricia has been working with colleagues and students to put new initiatives into place, including:
- A peer-assisted learning groups pilot where second year students work with first year students on an assigned task;
- A pilot blog designed and led by students, (supervised by Patricia) detailing resources, social events and guidance on student life.
Patricia has also organised a symposium on student retention at Wolverhampton which will run next week, at which she will share the findings of the project with colleagues and discuss further ways to improve retention.
She commented: “While we already knew that we had to give the retention issue more attention. Taking part in the National Retention Project provided a format and the context in which to address this issue. It gave us the space and time to discuss it with other institutions, find out what works and what does not, and come up with new ways of helping students to stay on in higher education.”
Professor Nazira Karodia, Dean of Faculty of Science and Engineering, explained she chose Computer Science as the discipline to participate in the project because of the high non-continuation rate in this subject.
“I see what we’ve achieved by taking part in the National Retention Project as the pilot for the work that will now continue at the Faculty level,” she said. “If we can make a difference for these students, I think we can make a significant change across the Faculty in other disciplines.
The Community of Practice in Access, Retention, Attainment and Progression enables its members to share useful resources on the current issues. Find out more
To find out more about the National Retention Project and how the HEA can help your institution, click here.