12 Nov 2009

Most ‘drop outs’ do not seek support from university staff, survey finds

A new survey has revealed that less than a third of students who withdrew from university turned to staff as one of their sources of advice. With most students consulting friends and family on their decisions, just 28% of those dropping out of higher education said they had spoken to staff from their university. One in three said they had spoken to nobody. The survey of students who have left university or who are considering leaving, conducted by for The Open University (OU), also revealed that students felt more should have been done to advise them of their higher education options when they felt they wanted to leave.

Each year 35,000 students in England do not complete their Higher Education courses. When asked the reasons for withdrawing, half of the survey respondents mentioned an issue with their course, a third said they didn’t enjoy university life – an experience which many head to traditional universities for - and only 8% stated debt as an issue.

“Every university takes student support and student retention very seriously,” says Dr Christina Lloyd, Head of Teaching and Learner Support at The Open University. “The survey has revealed that many students who are considering leaving university do not engage with the support that may be available. Almost one in five (18%) of the respondents who left did not actually tell their university that they were leaving. For many, university is a wonderful experience, but for some there can be times of loneliness, isolation and doubts about the choices they have made. It can be difficult for a student to admit to a member of university staff that they are thinking of leaving.”

Two-thirds of the respondents to the survey who had left university felt that more could have been done to inform them of their Higher Education options and opportunities. Some of the respondents’ comments include: “I was essentially left to my own devices when I left [university]”; “I think young people are rushed into their decision to go to uni and those who have settled for something they don’t really want to do end up not knowing what to do with their life if they drop out. There should be more substantial careers advice both at sixth form and for those who decide uni isn’t for them when they get there.”

This underlines the importance of a new collaborative initiative between universities and UCAS called Back on Course, whereby educational advisers proactively contact students withdrawing from university to offer information and guidance on opportunities such as changing course, transferring to a more local university, moving to part-time study and helping students examine their career aims. The scheme will also encourage students to engage better with the support offered by their former university if they had not already done so. It is anticipated that a further 10-15% of non-completing students will be retained in higher education as a result of the project, which is initially running as a pilot in the North-West.

Nearly two thirds of respondents to the survey say they may consider part-time study as an alternative. This is borne out by indications of increased interest in part-time study from younger people with the OU seeing a surge in applications - in August, course registrations were up 36% among 18- to 24-year-olds compared with the same time last year.

Notes to editors
About the survey
502 self-selecting respondents completed the survey, which was conducted over May and June 2009 on the website. Of those respondents, 461 had already withdrawn, or were considering withdrawing.

About Back on Course
Back on Course is a new initiative funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) which provides information, advice and guidance to students who withdraw from higher education. Run as a partnership between the OU, UCAS and English universities it seeks to reduce significantly non-completion rates in higher education by facilitating transfers to institutions that are well placed to meet students’ needs based on location, mode of study (eg part-time) or subject offered. The scheme is being offered initially in the North West and then extended to the rest of England in academic year 2010/11.

About The Open University
The Open University (OU) is the UK’s largest university and the world leader in distance education. More than two million people have studied with the OU since it began in 1969. The OU has more than 200,000 students in over 40 countries studying for a variety of degrees and vocational qualifications ranging from short courses to PhDs. Independent authorities have consistently ranked the OU in the top five UK universities for teaching quality and virtually all of the University’s research areas have received ratings of national or international excellence. OU students are more impressed with the quality of their courses and the support received than those at any other UK university, based on the findings of the National Student Survey. The OU has been at the top of the rankings every year since the survey began in 2005.

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