No easy answers

July 16, 2004

Readers may have been puzzled by your eye-catching headline last week "'Bums-on-seats' policy leads more students to drop out" because the story failed to identify the source of the research from which important retention intelligence had been gleaned.

York St John College won a commission with the North Yorks Learning and Skills Council to explore why students leave university - particularly in the early stages. An innovative research methodology devised by Debbie Davies and Peter Williams contrasted the perceptions of students and tutors and attempted to identify points of intervention that might lead to greater mutual understanding.

The research also questioned the received wisdom that particular groups of students are disproportionately vulnerable and that financial pressures are a determining factor. The results are complex and confirm earlier work about a cluster of vulnerabilities. What is new is the data on the mismatch of perceptions. The researchers intend to build on this by working with other key agents at different parts in the students' application, admission and transition process (see: www.yorksj.ac.uk under "News & Events").

The simplistic explanation of "bums on seats" may be one part of the story, but it does not represent a full account of this critical issue.

Dianne Willcocks
Principal, York St John College

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