Higher Education Academy (HEA): ‘Belonging’ critical to student retention and success

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Date: 27-07-2012. A report published today by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, in partnership with HEFCE, the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and Action on Access, has found that a sense of belonging is critical to student retention and success.

The report is the culmination of the three-year What Works? Student Retention & Success programme, funded by HEFCE and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The programme supported seven projects across the higher education sector, with 22 participating higher education institutions. Each project, facilitated by the HEA and Action on Access, set out to evaluate
approaches to improving student retention and success. Today’s report details their findings.

Although around 8% of students drop out of higher education during their first year, the study found that around 40% of the students surveyed had serious doubts and considered withdrawing. Student drop-out represents a waste of people’s potential but also comes at a significant financial cost to the institution.

The What Works? research found that among the activities that nurture a sense of belonging in students, those rooted in the academic domain were particularly effective at preventing drop-out and enabling young people to be successful in their studies.

Among the strategies found to be effective were:

• Academic induction programmes

• Engaged teaching techniques including problem-solving and real-world applications

• Academic development and support within the academic department, such as personal tutoring

• Good teacher/learner relationships

• Peer mentoring

The following reflective questions are offered as a starting point to assist institutions in reviewing their approach to nurturing  sense of belonging, and enhancing student engagement, retention and success.

1. To what extent does the institution actively nurture a culture of belonging to maximise the retention and success of all students?

2. To what extent do all staff feel responsible for student belonging, retention and success through accountability, recognition, support and development and reward structures?

3. To what extent is student belonging, retention and success mainstreamed into pre-entry interventions, transition and induction, learning, teaching and assessment and professional services?

4. To what extent is high-quality, student-centred learning and teaching seen as integral to student belonging, retention and success?

5. To what extent does the institution develop the capacity – understanding, skills and opportunities – for all students to engage, belong and be successful?

6. To what extent does institutional data and monitoring support student belonging, retention and success through identifying poorly performing departments, programmes and modules, and student behaviour that increases withdrawal?

7. To what extent do all students feel like they belong at the university or college, and that they are supported to maximise their success?

The full report can be downloaded from the HEA website here.