Students in the dark are at big risk of dropping out

May 12, 2006

Many new students start higher education with almost no idea of what their institution or degree course will be like - which makes them more likely to consider dropping out, a study has found, writes Olga Wojtas.

More than 30 per cent of new students said they knew nothing or very little about their institution, and 30 per cent admitted knowing nothing or very little about their degree programme, according to the survey of 6,000 students.

And more than 40 per cent of those who knew little or nothing about the course before enrolment considered leaving, compared with only 25 per cent of those who knew a moderate amount or a lot.

The preliminary findings emerged from a study of first-year students' experiences that was carried out by Mantz Yorke of Lancaster University and Bernard Longden of Liverpool Hope University for the Higher Education Academy.

Professor Yorke said he had thought that when the Government first proposed tuition fees in 1997, students would be more thorough when making decisions.

"Quite a large number say they didn't have a very strong knowledge of their institution and/or the programme," he said. "That suggests that decision-making may not have sharpened up."

While students had an obligation to conduct research themselves, it was also in institutions' own interests to ensure that students were well informed because this would reduce the risk of them dropping out.

The study, the initial findings of which were reported to the HEA's national conference this week, also found that students in about one third of subjects thought that feedback from tutors was not received fast enough.

About a third of the respondents found academic work was harder than they had expected; and 38 per cent found it difficult to balance academic with other commitments.

Only one in ten students had done any reading beyond the programme's requirements. The majority of those questioned - 57 per cent - said they had to do paid work to help fund their studies. A similar number were worried about money.

More than 80 per cent of the first years were happy with their subject choice, with 72 per cent confident their course would lead to a graduate-level job.

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