Student retention matters - not just for students but also for the success of our local and national communities. The practice of retention helps promote personal achievement and economic security, national competitiveness in a global economy and fair opportunities and equitable outcomes for disadvantaged student groups.
We know the January period will see many Vice Chancellors occupied by early data on student retention and whether this has decreased significantly against forecasts, requiring an adjustment to budgets and planning. The most up to date HESA data (2013/14) shows an average non-continuation rate among all first year students of 7.2% with many London institutions showing reporting above national average. Data varies across type of institution, disciplines, regions and different student groups, and HEA has published a number of reports exploring how discipline culture can exert an independent effect on retention and attainment.
London providers recognise there are unique conditions that make retention more challenging than elsewhere in the sector - for example, living costs and HEPs competing more closely for the same students. The HEA is currently coordinating The London Retention Project aimed at achieving a deeper understanding of the retention issues in the London context and providing support and networking opportunities to address common challenges.
A full list of participating institutions will be available on the HEA website this month. The benefits are three fold: institutions welcome the chance to collaborate with others on a common shared problem; an initial 1:1 meeting with HEA offers expert and bespoke feedback, along with signposting to resources; and finally an opportunity to take part in a Retention Audit which allows institutions to benchmark their practice against the HEA Retention Framework, itself informed by research and evidence based practice.
In February, we will publish a literature review on interventions around student access, retention, attainment and progression. The review focuses specifically on interventions showing demonstrable impact (aligned to aspects of the HEA’s retention framework), and many examples are drawn from the US, involving practices that are transferable to the UK context. The review covers literature published since the HEA’s last retention review in 2009 and will be an important publication as it will spotlight institutional initiatives that have demonstrated effectiveness in their ambitions and strategy.
Dr Lynne Wyness, Educational Developer at Plymouth University and co-author of the review suggests five key lessons for student retention: primarily, that data is the foundation of understanding retention issues, that evidence is not particularly strong for any one form of intervention over another, that what we do in the classroom and our relationship with our students matters and that structured support is essential. Lastly, holistic structured programmes of support can have real impact.
Some important interventions that institutions can utilise to address retention include:
We believe the HEA framework on Access, Retention, Attainment and Progression and toolkit provides universities the opportunity to critically reflect on how they approach the business of helping students make the right choice of course, supporting all staff and students through developing a sense of belonging, providing the right academic and personal support for students and finally developing their career and lifelong learning capabilities to be successful.
The HEA FrameWORKS audits allow HEPs to gain a snapshot of current practice and to identify areas of strength and opportunity to initiate change. Later this year, we intend to share the outputs and the learnings from our retention projects in the sector, and in early spring we will be publishing three toolkits including an introduction to threshold concepts and student retention, an attendance toolkit and a case-study and toolkit examining the transferability of Kingston University’s value-added project on closing attainment gaps. If you are interested in finding out more about the work of the Academic Practice Team please do get in touch.
On 11 April 2017, HEA is holding a conference to showcase the outcomes of the What Works? - Student Retention and Success Programme. The Programme and conference is a Paul Hamlyn Foundation initiative working with the Higher Education Academy, Action on Access and 13 UK universities across 43 discipline areas. The Programme examined what works in terms of retention and success and, crucially, developed understanding about how to implement change. Read a summary of key outcomes, findings and messages from the programme here. We hope to see you at this event.