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Staying the course:The retention of students in higher education Paul Wright-Anderson
The NAO • Provides independent information, assurance and advice to Parliament on the use of public resources • Helps promote better financial management and value for money • Headed by Comptroller and Auditor General
Structure of the presentation • About the study • Overall NAO conclusions • Other findings • NAO recommendations
Why a study on retention? • Follow up 2002 NAO and PAC reports • PSA target: ‘to bear down upon non-completion’ • Financial/social returns to higher education • Funding from HEFCE and spending by HEIs
How did we collect our evidence? • Case studies visits to 12 institutions • Analysis of student data • Interviews with early leavers • Consultations with officials and other experts • Comparisons with overseas higher education systems
NAO’s overall conclusion ’Compared internationally, higher education in England achieves high levels of student retention. For the sector to improve even marginally on that level of performance while, at the same time, opening up higher education to both increased numbers and greater diversity is a big challenge. The improvements so far are a good achievement.’
But NAO also noted that: • Marginal improvement in overall retention since previous report • Still a wide range in universities’ performance, with retention worsening in a minority of institutions • Some ‘good’ performers don’t do well against benchmark • Some groups of students more vulnerable to not continuing, e.g. part-time students • Increasing pressure as participation widens
Trends in retention, 1999-2005 Note: Full-time, first degree students only Source: HESA/HEFCE
Universities’ performance 2004-05 Note: Full-time, first degree students only, 2004-05 entry Source: NAO analysis of HESA student data
Universities’ progress on retention Note: Full-time, first degree students only Source: NAO analysis of HESA student data
Performance of university groupings Note: Full-time, first degree students only, 2004-05 entry Source: NAO analysis of HESA student data
Which students are less likely to continue? • Those with lower prior qualifications • Those taking STEM or MFL subjects • Men • 20 years old on entry compared with 18 years • Studying full time in an FEC (and registered at an HEI) • Studying part time in an HEI (comp
Students with disabilities Note: All undergraduates, 2004-05 entry Source: NAO analysis of HESA student data
Sharing good practice • Good practices need not be expensive • They usually also improve the student experience and contribute to better quality education • Some examples
Three recommendations to HEFCE • Work with sector to develop PIs for part-time students • Verify the projected completion rates • Research whether eligible students miss out on DSA and work with ECU and CE&HR to improve HEI support to students to apply
Recommendations to universities (1-3) • Periodic review of trends in retention • Parts of the institution • Student groups • Subject areas • Ongoing monitoring to underpin retention work • Student level • Faculty level • Course level • Improve understanding of why students leave • Why do they leave? • What could have been done to keep them?
Recommendations to universities (4-6) • Sell support services rather than deficit model • Including tutoring systems • ‘Improving grades’ v ‘addressing learning deficits’ • Review systems and processes • Question own performance on DSA • Know who is likely to be eligible • Provide students with better support to apply • Adopt and spread good practice • Across the sector • Within institution • Between ‘like’ institutions
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