Contact with dropouts can lure them back

August 23, 2002

Universities and colleges should try to get in touch with student dropouts, who may wrongly believe they have blown their only chance of higher education, writes Olga Wojtas.

Paisley University researcher Muir Houston will next week reveal initial findings from a project that saw a number of students return after being contacted by the university.

Mr Houston will speak at the seventh annual Student Wellbeing conference organised by Glasgow and Strathclyde universities about the first year of a three-year survey of Paisley's students.

The survey says that those most likely to drop out are mature female students, while young women are much less likely to give up than young men.

It shows that students frequently drop out because of a combination of difficulties unrelated to their course, often domestic and childcare responsibilities compounded by health problems in the family. But they may then assume that they cannot return.

"These aren't failures but people who have suffered setbacks in their personal life," Mr Houston said.

More than 10 per cent of students contacted through the survey wanted to come back.

Mr Houston said this suggested that it could be useful for departments to contact students who had withdrawn to explain their options, such as moving from full-time to part-time courses.

The survey shows there is little that institutions can do to prevent students from withdrawing, but they can encourage them to re-enrol, Mr Houston said.

"I think we need to move from a reactive system to a proactive system for students who lose confidence in themselves and their right to be there," he said.

Withdrawing from a course should not always be seen in a negative light, he warned, since for some students it was an entirely rational decision. Several students surveyed had dropped out after job offers in areas that interested them.

* Poor living conditions could be forcing students to drop out, an analysis of wider access figures suggests.

The Jarvis Group, which manages student residences through its University Partnerships Programme, found the majority of dropouts are far more likely to live in private housing than halls of residence. The report says 55 per cent of students are unhappy with the accommodation they rent from private landlords, with complaints ranging from the inconvenience of the location to poor security and lack of cleanliness.

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