Improve staying power

July 29, 2005

A computer system that calculates the risk of students dropping out will be tested in September after research showed the majority of undergraduates who leave a course do so in the first four weeks.

Research by Dennis Duty of Huddersfield University Business School has revealed that of the students who leave the school each year, up to 80 per cent go at the beginning of their courses.

Mr Duty said the school had already developed a system of weekly monitoring of students' attendance to help focus pastoral care on those who most need it. But in September a new system will be tested that will calculate the likelihood of students dropping out.

The system will take account of the social background, home postcode, entry method, gender, age and qualifications and will allocate a "risk of withdrawal" indicator.

Mr Duty said: "It is a very flexible model that can be set up by the user to enter whatever variables they think apply and to weight the different variables. In this way, any year tutor will be able to apply the system to their own needs."

Looking back over the past four years, Mr Duty's research has shown that, typically, 12 students a year leave the Business School. Eight to ten of them leave in the first four weeks.

Mr Duty said the first response to the findings was to design a monitoring system that was similar to "a customer relationship management system or client database you find in many service organisations". He added: "This allows us to monitor attendance on a weekly basis and to monitor student performance on a live basis - in other words, as it occurs. Being able to monitor performance weekly allowed us to quickly identify when a student started to miss seminars."

Students who missed seminars early in the course would be telephoned with an offer of help and support, Mr Duty said.

"Our policy is to support the student in whatever decision they feel is right, and not necessarily to attempt to persuade them to stay.

"In our experience, only a small number of these early leavers can be counselled to stay, but it requires tact, understanding and empathy," he added.

A spokesman for Universities UK said: "UK higher education has had a strong record in student retention over many years and does very well by comparison with the rest of the world. Our 83 per cent completion rate is much higher than France (59 per cent), Germany (70 per cent) or the US (66 per cent). These figures are also backed up by various student surveys, which consistently find high satisfaction levels among those studying in the UK."

paul.hill@thes.co.uk

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