Boost emotional skills to help reduce drop-out rates, say academics

Universities urged to develop programmes to help young adults make transition to higher education, writes Melanie Newman

August 25, 2009

Government strategies to assist with the emotional development of schoolchildren should be adopted in universities to tackle drop-out rates, academics have said.

Interventions to boost students’ “emotional intelligence” could help some students to persevere with their studies, according to a team led by Pamela Qualter, principal lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire.

While most institutions provide counselling services and induction programmes to help students with the “stressful” transition from school to university, 17-18 per cent still fail to complete their studies.

Dr Qualter’s team studied 332 students and found that those who persisted with their degrees scored more highly in tests for emotional intelligence than those who dropped out.

They measured emotional intelligence through tests for four capabilities: emotion perception, mood regulation, regulation of other people’s emotions and utilisation of emotions.

The researchers provided a second intake of 640 students with an “intervention” consisting of lectures and discussions on emotional intelligence and guidance on how to develop “key competencies” in the area.

Students with low initial levels of emotional intelligence improved their capabilities as a result and were more likely to continue with their studies than the control group.

However, the intervention made no difference to those who started out with a high level of emotional intelligence, and those with average levels were more likely to drop out, the researchers found.

“These findings are consistent with the notion that lower emotional intelligence leads to problems coping with the transition from high school to university which, in turn, may lead to withdrawal from higher education,” says the paper, “The Role of Emotional Intelligence in the Decision to Persist with Academic Studies in HE”, which appears in September’s issue of Research in Post-Compulsory Education.

“Our findings emphasise the need to develop programmes that provide young adults with the social and emotional skills to negotiate satisfying relationships and better integration into university life.

“In the UK we already have government strategies on social and emotional development for primary and high schools, but our data suggest that such strategies would also be useful in higher education.”

The study follows a paper published in the Oxford Review of Education earlier this year, “Changing the Subject: The Educational Implications of Developing Emotional Wellbeing”, by Kathryn Ecclestone, professor of education at Oxford Brookes University, and Dennis Hayes, professor of education at the University of Derby, which argues that preoccupation with emotional wellbeing poses a threat to academic subject learning.

“It is essential to challenge claims and assumptions about wellbeing and the government-sponsored academic, professional and commercial industry which promotes them,” the authors say.

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