Keep them busy to keep them on

January 23, 2003

Setting students assignments as soon as they arrive at university could help cut dropout rates, according to researchers at Ulster University.

Tony Cook of UU's faculty of life and health sciences is leading a national project aimed at helping entrants and prospective students to understand what university life is really like.

A key theme of the three-year Student Transition and Retention (Star) project being carried out in collaboration with Manchester, Sunderland, Brighton and Liverpool Hope universities is to integrate students into university life as quickly as possible. This involves making them aware of the quality and quantity of work expected from them, as well as helping them to mix socially.

Dr Cook said a UU survey showed that entrants accurately estimated that they would have to work for between 35 and 40 hours a week. But when they were surveyed again in December they had been working well below 30 hours. "The freedom that students get at university is too much for some, and they probably need more structure in the first year," Dr Cook said.

The Star project, backed by £250,000 from the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning, also aims to improve information for prospective students. Dr Cook said many entrants did not digest prospectus information on curricula. In his own discipline, biology, they were often surprised to be studying chemistry and mathematics, he said.

"They think they're dealing with furry animals or ecosystems right from the off. We want them not to be disappointed by what they get."


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