OU lights the way

April 13, 2007

I'm concerned about the comments made in your article "Tutors despair over students" (March 30) and especially the comment that there are "some students who do not work hard enough". If this is a problem it is one that universities with their wealth of research talent are very well-equipped to solve. Might I suggest a research project along the following lines: 1. Find a competent statistician to predict which are your most vulnerable students before they arrive. It might reveal some interesting characteristics of your failing students, but at the very least it will flag those who may need special support as soon as they arrive.

2. Find a psychologist who can look into why your students are not working hard enough. If it's lack of motivation, look at a strategy that will enhance that motivation.J 3. If colleagues object to the time and resource used on this, then show them that even a 2 or 3 per cent increase in retention will generate enough of an increase in the Higher Education Funding Council for England grant to more than fund the programme.

4. Finally, take a lesson from the Open University. Every year the OU takes in 10,000 students who do not have conventional university entry qualifications. About half of those go on to get a course credit. By using the methods above we have been able to increase our retention rates by about 5 per cent - significantly more than we need to break even.

Perhaps lighting a candle of research will be a better way forward than cursing the darkness of our student intake.

Ormond Simpson
Open University

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