Under the bonnet…interventions for improving course level student retention.

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According to the Higher Education Academy (HEA),'Retention’ in the UK refers to students remaining within one higher education (HE) institution and completing their programme of study within a specific timeframe’ (Thomas, 2012). It is well known that a significant number of students consider withdrawing from their course and therefore institutions, departments and academic teams need to have a focus on improving academic and social interventions. Ulster is one of 13 UK institutions participating in the What Works? Student Retention and Success Change programme. The programme focuses on identifying and implementing approaches to improving student retention. There are multiple factors that can influence entry, transition and retention of students in higher education. “Pre-entry information and transitional support are identified as key factors that promote student success and retention”. (Andrews et al. 2012). The Government Whitepaper ‘Higher Education: Students at the Heart of the System’ highlights the importance of Higher Education in relation to social mobility through widening access. Consequently, the 'What Works?' programme seeks to analyse and evaluate best practice to ensure strong student retention in Higher Education, with a particular focus on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Central to Ulster University’s Student Retention and Success Change Programme is the need for meaningful staff student partnerships that engender a shared responsibility and which are underpinned by a positive student experience within a supportive learning environment. This programme is underpinned by Ulster’s Learning and Teaching strategy 2014-18 which has an overarching aim “to provide students with high quality, challenging and rewarding learning experience…with the intention to enhance the student experience and promote student engagement and success”. Contributing to this, the Ulster University Business School has been set an ambitious retention target of 94%. Whilst the Business School is among the best in Ulster in relation to retention there are some programmes which have high attrition rates. This is the case on the BSc International Hospitality Management and in 2012/13 more than a quarter of students on the programme withdrew. This was not an isolated instance and was fast becoming an established trend highlighting to the course team that there was a significant problem of attrition that required urgent attention. The programme of study is a vocational degree that engages learners in both classroom based learning as well as interacting with commercial hospitality in a training restaurant environment. Using a multi-faceted approach attrition rates significantly improved in 2013/14 with encouraging progress also to date in 2014/15. For a university with a widening access agenda, participation in What Works? has helped provide an institution wide focus on student retention. This presentation will share the success and challenges of developing and implementing more than 10 separate interventions as part of a retention strategy at course level. The seminar provides a demographic and criterion analysis of the students that withdrew from their programme of study in a two year period and the implications of these findings in both informing and developing a sustainable retention strategy for 2015/16 and beyond.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
PublisherChartered Association of Business Schools
Number of pages0
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 29 Apr 2015
EventAssociation of Business Schools, Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Conference - York, England.
Duration: 29 Apr 2015 → …


ConferenceAssociation of Business Schools, Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Conference
Period29/04/15 → …


  • Student Retention
  • Student Engagement
  • Student experience
  • Attrition.


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