Dr Steven Tucker of the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, tells us about the development of a multi-dimensional approach aimed at improving poor retention figures seen at level 3 courses.
Student retention is a complex issue for which there is no magic bullet approach and where one size does not fit all. With this in mind, a number of varied approaches were developed within the School of Medicine, Medical Science and Nutrition to reduce student attrition at level 3, where a significant loss of students was consistently reported (as high as 13% loss of students in 2009-10).
Following substantial consideration of literature around retention strategies, and attendance at a number of UK-wide conferences focussed on improving retention and engagement, a series of measures were introduced to help student transition into level 3. These were aimed at addressing the challenges that students specifically identified at level 3 as likely or actual contributors to discontinuation of study:
- Increased workload and expectation
- Change to essay-style examinations
- Pressures to enhance portfolio with extra-curricular experience
- Diverse student needs in terms of the delivery of support and guidance
The approaches developed and implemented between 2013 and the present day are detailed below:
Table 1: Strategies developed and implemented to improve retention amongst medical science students at Level 3.
Individual strategies were designed to inform students of challenges, and make them aware of opportunities, with this balance critical for facilitating success, engagement and student development across level 3. Additionally, channels for specific advice and support, as well as avenues to develop student portfolios, were made available to address student preferences for seeking guidance and to develop clear lines of communication for students with any queries.
Central to the delivery of these strategies was the virtual learning environment (VLE), as a means of communication and, as a repository for an ever expanding bank of resources. This was continually populated throughout the year and rolled over from one year to the next so as to deliver evolving and tailored information for level 3 students. Such a library of guidance was very widely accessed by students providing opportunities to browse or for targeted searches by proactive students. The success of these strategies is evidenced by the reduction in attrition rates to at or below 2% across level 3 in the School of Medicine, Medical Science and Nutrition since 2015. Furthermore, many other schools have now adopted and adapted these approaches to meet their own specific retention demands with engagement events, drop-in sessions, dedicated VLE sites and welcome events becoming established practice across the Institution. Further dissemination at HEA and QAA conferences has increased the impact of this style of multifaceted approach across UK and International HEIs.