Staying the course: Student retention at English universities

There is a rising focus on student success in higher education.

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) will include measures of it; HEFCE has a programme of work on it; Government is consulting on how to make it easier for students to switch institutions mid-degree; and students themselves are more focused on it in the context of paying higher tuition fees.

Student success should be thought about broadly, including the experience of higher education as well as the outcome. It should not be reduced to one metric or the other; though for the purposes of this paper we examine student success mainly through the frame of continuation rates. We do this because it is one leading measure of success and will be part of the TEF. In the case studies presented at the end of the paper we capture some of the broader issues and hope to return to them in a future paper.

In terms of continuation rates, we report overall results and demonstrate the variation across the sector. Unless otherwise stated, the results come from our own analysis of HESA data, focusing on undergraduate students at English institutions. We also go on to look briefly at student satisfaction, using headline results from the National Student Survey.

Beyond the analysis, we report on interviews conducted with a range of institutions about the strategies they have adopted to improve student success.

This work has been supported by Hobsons though the SMF is responsible for the analysis and any conclusions drawn from it.

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