and recommendations |
1. Since the Committee last reported in 2002
there has been no reduction in the percentage of students in England
not completing their higher education course at their original
institution: the figure remains at 22%. The
UK has a higher estimated national graduation rate than most other
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries,
but actions to improve retention have had little overall effect.
Universities need to concentrate their efforts on actions most
likely to be successful. The Funding Council should systematically
evaluate the cost-effectiveness and impact of initiatives that
it has directly funded. It should also provide guidance to universities
on how best to assess the costs and outcomes of local initiatives.
2. Increasing and widening participation in
higher education attracts more students from under-represented
groups who are more likely to withdraw from courses early. These
students may need more support to complete their courses. Universities
need to understand the needs of their changing student populations.
They should use market research techniques such as customer segmentation
to help them provide teaching and support services which appropriately
reflect students' different cultural, social and economic backgrounds,
for example through flexible timetabling of lectures. The Funding
Council should disseminate the lessons from its proposed review
of the differences between universities in the proportions of
students receiving Disabled Students' Allowances.
3. There is wide variation in universities'
performance in the continuation of students to a second year of
study. In 2004-05, five universities achieved
a continuation rate in excess of 97% for full-time, first-degree
students, whereas 12 had continuation rates below 87%. Russell
Group universities tend to have higher rates of retention than
other types of university. For those universities with consistently
low retention rates the Funding Council's regional teams should
agree specific improvement plans. The Funding Council should encourage
universities with better retention to share good practice with
those that are less successful.
4. Universities can lose funding if they retain
fewer students than expected, but can avoid this sanction by recruiting
more students. Where a university with
low retention seeks to maintain its student population through
recruitment, the Funding Council should agree clear expectations
for planned improvements in retention in the university's improvement
plan, to be met irrespective of any changes in levels of recruitment.
5. Only around half of part-time students
obtain a qualification within six years and there is no specific
framework to encourage improvement. The
Funding Council should develop and publish indicators so that
prospective part-time students can compare universities' retention
of students who are unable to, or prefer not to, study full time.
6. The first-year continuation rate in Mathematical
Science, Computing and Engineering subjects is three percentage
points below the national average for all subjects. Such
subjects are of strategic importance to the nation's economic
development, so universities need to have well developed outreach
programmes with schools. Programmes could include running summer
schools for prospective students in these subjects and offering
mentoring to help prepare students so that they are encouraged
to apply and more likely to succeed.
7. Some students feel that academic and pastoral
support is limited and does not meet their needs. Universities
should give personal tutoring a sufficiently high priority, with
training and support to help tutors to be fully effective in their
role. Reward systems for academic staff should give sufficient
recognition to performance in respect of personal tuition.
8. Information on why students withdraw from
their courses is not reliable. Although
some data is collected nationally it is often incomplete and inconsistent.
Little is known, for example, as to the extent to which mental
or physical illness or domestic circumstances contribute to withdrawal.
The Funding Council together with the Higher Education Statistics
Agency and universities should develop a common standard and principles
which define the types of retention information which need to
be collected and reported.
9. There are substantial variations between
universities in the proportions of students with disabilities
that receive the Disabled Students' Allowances. The
Department and the Funding Council are responding to this issue
by centralising the team that administers the Allowances. The
Department should aim to make access straightforward and fair
for all, and the Funding Council should follow up at university-level
if its forthcoming research indicates that eligible students are
missing out on their entitlement.