Can we stop students leaving?

By Einita Sohal, ASRA Training Officer and University Partnerships Manager at Unite Students

We all have one thing in common: Student Retention is, or can be, an issue for all of us. The national drop-out rate rose from 6.6% in 2011–12 to 7.4% in 2014–15. Furthermore, entrants from low participation neighbourhoods are more likely to drop out at 8.8%, which is up 0.6% from 2014–15.

Usually by the time a student has decided to leave it is too late to understand their reasoning as they only have departure on their mind. Working with sector bodies and universities it is clear we all have very different ways of tracking reasons as to why students leave. Similar to Unite Students there are many providers and universities that have over 10 options that students can state as their reasoning for leaving. Understanding the reasons is extremely important as it will highlight areas to improve, ways that we can better collaborate with partners and, finally, it helps to understand if any aftercare support is required. There are, however, institutional hurdles that sometimes can block us from asking students for their reasoning to leave, for these institutions the journey to understand their retention becomes harder.

Usually by the time a student has decided to leave it is too late to understand their reasoning as they only have departure on their mind

For a small percentage of students leaving university it is the right thing to do, as university is not for everyone. But on the other hand, what about students that never expected to leave? They feel as though their journey was interrupted by unforeseen circumstances. We have to explore if these students leaving is really the answer? Our recent insight research explored who students would turn to if they were struggling: 50% said their tutor or lecturer, 47% said the university counselling service and the most popular source of guidance was family, which stood at 85%!

By July 2017 Unite Students saw its highest number of students wanting to leave their University citing medical matters as the reason. Using our early leave data and student insight research we have been able to understand further work that needs to be undertaken by both the university and accommodation to support both student resilience and retention.

Since January 2017 we have been busy building a student retention workshop which focuses on just that. Initially we undertook these sessions with our partner universities, but recently we have received workshop requests from universities in cities that we do not currently operate in. The response to our workshops has been overwhelmingly positive and shows a clear appetite for cross collaboration. Within the sessions, we share our experience and learnings as the UK’s largest student accommodation provider, our insights into what the student journey looks like today and our research data and insights. This includes our survey of 6,500 undergraduates where we looked at their expectations of university life and to what extent their hopes are met by the realities of this new and exciting phase of their lives.

You can download Unite’s latest research or find out more about its workshops by visiting

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