Universities that fail to make new students feel welcome suffer higher dropout rates than those that make a good first impression, research has found.
Analysis by the research consultancy YouthSight found a strong correlation between students’ perception of their university in their first month and the likelihood of their dropping out at a later stage.
Institutions with the most dissatisfied undergraduates – where only a quarter rate their early experience as “excellent” – have non-completion rates of more than 11 per cent on average, the survey found. This compares with just 2.5 per cent in universities where about two-thirds of students say the institution has lived up to their expectations. The average dropout rate is 6.7 per cent, the YouthSight Higher Expectations study shows.
The universities of Cambridge and Oxford came first and second, respectively, for early positive student experience. The University of St Andrews was third, Harper Adams University fourth and Durham University fifth.
James MacGregor, director of higher education research at YouthSight, said that the top 10 showed that perceptions of excellence were “not simply a proxy for institutional reputation”.
“Usually well-regarded universities that do not make the effort with new undergraduates are unnecessarily flirting with higher non-completion rates later,” he said.
YouthSight surveyed more than 10,300 students to compile the data. Those who rated their university as “excellent” cited the quality of teaching and their course as the most important factors. Students also emphasised the importance of pastoral care, and praised universities that “had lots of things organised for new students”, “responded quickly to queries”, were “supportive” and had friendly staff.
Dissatisfied students cited the failure of their institution to make adequate arrangements for newcomers, and complained about difficulties obtaining information about university societies and support services.
“A university has to carefully plan how to make students feel welcome, ideally from well before a student arrives,” Mr MacGregor said.