Providing a range of support services for students and an effective induction to the University and programme are now accepted practices across the University. They make a real difference to students’ chances of success. There is also a more explicit role for academic staff and programme teams in supporting student retention and success by making the curriculum more accessible for non-traditional students.

This document provides a range of strategies that can be adopted by programme teams and by individual academic staff to enhance retention via the curriculum at both programme and module levels.

Figure 1: Why think about Retention?
1. It is part of enhancing the student learning experience
  • Enhance the student learning experience for those students who would have left without this support and for others who are enabled to achieve greater success.
  • Provide guidance to students to enable them to see the relevance of their chosen course to their life after university, and identifying the relevance of modules to the overall course aims, can be explicit ways of making a programme more attractive to students, encouraging them to engage with their studies.
2. It can provide job satisfaction for staff
  • Seeing students succeed, often in quite difficult circumstances, provides staff who teach and support them with their own feelings of success.
3. It can provide job security for staff
  • Retaining students effectively can mean saving jobs, and greater long-term job security.
  • Programmes in which students are successful and where student satisfaction is enhanced also market themselves to some extent.
4. It plays a role in social and educational change
  • By supporting non-traditional students to succeed, we are making positive change possible.
  • Enhancing the opportunities for the success of first generation students could impact positively on social life in the UK.
Key issues

The following are some of the key issues which we know impact on student retention and success.

Figure 2: Some key issues on student retention
1. Transition
  • Transition does not only take place in the first week of students’ studies, but rather there are a series of small and large transitions going on throughout their time at university
  • For example,  transitions between stages, levels or years; life transitions from worker to student, or school pupil to university student, or parent of a student to being a student themselves; or the transition from guided learner to independent learner; or from classroom student to student on placement
2. ‘Killer’ modules
  • Modules that have high failure rate and poor attendance
  • Modules that students find difficult to pass, and which are sometimes identified as ‘unpopular’
3. Students’ goal and motivation
  • Students who have goals are more likely to stay, and more likely to invest in their studies
  • Students who do not have clear goals, or seem to lack motivation, there are ways we can engage them in their learning, encourage them to identify goals and help to motivate them
4. First-year experience
  • Students begin to make key transitions in the first year, where they begin to clarify their goals
  • Could be particularly challenging for first generation students who have no family members who have been to university
5. Assessment
  • Assessment anxiety provides a trigger for some students to leave
  • While some students leave because they fail, fear of failure is also an important factor in students’ poor attendance and withdrawal
6. Social integration and relationships in and out of the classroom
  • There may be a tendency in universities with a high local population, for students to retain their home friends, and for them to attend classes but not to socialise on campus.
  • Relationships between staff and students are also crucially important in supporting students’ engagement with university life
7. Ownership
  • Using strategies to encourage students to take ownership over their learning, and of their goals, can have a significant effect on their success at university and beyond.