Steering in the right direction

Directing your students to graduate outcomes is key to achieving better retention

A basic truism is that the more we can see a purpose and an end goal to whatever it is we are doing, the more likely we are to be motivated to achieve.

Of course, the flipside is also true. Who would bother following a recipe if they were uncertain that it would lead to a good dish at the end of it? Why would anyone bother to plant seeds that they didn’t think are going to grow? What would be the point of reading a book that all the reviews say has a tedious ending?

Or how about this: why would someone enrolled in a university course necessarily be motivated to achieve great things, if they can’t see where that course might lead them?

The latest HESA figures (for 2015/16) show an average drop-out rate for first degree students in their first year of 6.4% (up from 5.7% in 2011/2012, but still significantly lower than the high of 7.9% in 1998/99). For some institutions the problem is even more critical, with drop-out rates reaching well into double figures. No doubt there are many factors that contribute to this, but we would suggest that one of them is simply that universities are often not very good at giving their students a vision for life after graduation. That is, their students aren’t shown where the education they are receiving can take them in life.

This issue is bigger than the 6.4% statistic, however. It is perfectly possible for people to go through three years of university, get a degree at the end of it, and yet to have done so going through the motions and without any real thoughts beyond ‘getting a degree’. Sure, they didn’t add to the drop-out figures. But were they as engaged as they could have been had they been given real direction?

Vested interest

All universities have a vested interest in increasing retention rates and ensuring, as much as possible, that their students are motivated throughout their studies.

One of the keys to solving the problem can be found through offering better direction. The author and speaker Simon Sinek once helpfully defined the word direction in the following way: “Directions are instructions given to explain how. Direction is a vision offered to explain why.” It is direction, not directions, that universities should be aiming to give their students – that is, giving them a vision that explains why they are there, and why they should be motivated to succeed.

Directions are instructions given to explain how. Direction is a vision offered to explain why – Simon Sinek, author and speaker

One of the ways this can be achieved is by using labour market insight to show people far more explicitly the link between the degree they are doing and the career options that are open to them after they graduate. This is particularly the case in relation to the university’s region since, as DHLE figures show, most students remain in the area they studied in after graduating. By connecting insight on occupations that are related to their degree, and linking them to regional employers who are looking for people with their skills, universities can give their students the kind of direction that motivates and inspires them not only to complete their studies, but to excel.

The fact is that far too many people who go to university, including some who drop out and some who stay the course, don’t really know why they are doing the course they are doing and where it can lead them. They lack the direction that shows them the end goal and, consequently, they lack the motivation and desire to achieve. But by making that simple connection between courses and possible graduate outcomes far more explicit, your university can give its students the direction and vision that will inspire them not only to complete their studies, but to achieve great things – both during their studies and after graduation.

We are hosting a free webinar where we’ll be exploring this theme in more depth. To register, go to ‘Promoting Your Portfolio’ at


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