She felt alone in the process, as she was unaware of services that were available to her and felt that there was no support given to her by the university when she decided to leave.
After finding the experience of university overwhelming she found herself alone in the process of dropping out.
I just became invisible to tutors
They are part of the 8.6% of students in the UK to have dropped out of university, and therefore failing to completing their course.
Students fail to complete their course for many reasons, some find the experience of university different to what they’d imagined, some are unhappy on their course and others find it difficult to move away from home. But who can they speak to?
Back on Course is an organisation that helps students dealing with dropping out, they provide practical support and inform students of the opportunities that are still available to them.
The service is free and confidential, and has been funded by the Higher Education Funding Council. It helps those who have withdrawn from higher education before completing studies. Support is offered to people who are interested in returning to education or exploring other positive options such as: employment, training or apprenticeships.
Back on Course works closely with the Open University and UCAS to gain an insight into the reasons as to why students leave higher education early. Gathered research is then sent to higher education institutions to create targeted support that students can then receive.
During the two years that this project has been in place, five universities in the West Midlands have engaged with the project. This has allowed these universities to pass on the contact details of students who have left their studies early, and find out the reasons why they left.
A study has shown that 12 per cent of Back on Course early-leavers had been accepted back into higher education. The project helps students when re-applying to university, with courses that may be better suited and institutions that offer these courses.
Experts believe that any student could leave university early – no matter what their qualifications or background are – it’s the reason why they choose to do so that varies.
Barbara Stephens a senior manager at the Open University, revealed that:
Universities were not primarily to blame, but they shouldn’t be let off the hook, as they need to focus and build upon first-year inductions – as this is a crucial time for students.
She explains that Back On Course helps higher education institutions gain a better understanding of the reasons as to why students leave, and possibly try to improve the experience for future students to improve retention rates.
No previous studies have looked at the characteristics and behaviours of early-leavers who re-applied to higher education. This is an area where this study breaks completely new grounds.
We’ve found many students leave university during term breaks and fail to inform institutions as to why.
Students aged 20 and under have become a huge concern when looking at the percentage of dropouts:
Dropping out has become a big issue for students aged 20 and under, this age group accounted for three-quarters of all early-leavers. Over 40% of students in this age bracket were most likely to leave higher education due to the course not meeting their expectations. Although 86% of students in this age group were more likely to re-apply to institutions.
Students who have been dissatisfied with their higher education experience have dropped out due to a lack of advice and guidance offered. 50% of students who failed to received advice and guidance left due to course-related reasons.
Universities should be looking at contacting early leavers to find out why they have chosen to leave. However this would cost a lot for the institution to do so, and be able to deliver this sort of information, advice and guidance.
First year students have become a focus point for the Quality Assurance Agency’s newest report, where they have chosen to focus their attention on the first year experience and hope to improve universities for future generations.
First year experience is:
A key time for learning how to cope with the demands of a new environment and personal responsibilities.
At the University of Birmingham, they make students aware of the services provided through intensive advertising – at the university and online.
With the issue of student drop outs, the university run a number of services in order for students to get in touch.
They offer sessions with councillors where you are able to discuss confidentially the reasons you may be considering dropping out and they will be able to lead you in the right direction.
Workshops and groups are provided to help students manage their well being in a group environment, which offers peer support.
Recently they have introduced the wellbeing self-help resource online, where University of Birmingham students can access the site with their university email, which then offers help and support.
The site allows you to self-assess to find out your wellbeing score, and using this information you can help to identify problem areas – such as wanting to drop out. Through the page you are able to set personal targets and track your support.
A system like this is important as it offers confidential help that is convenient to the student as it can be accessed at any time. You don’t need an appointment! By tracking their progress students can see the change they have made and possibly help them to stay in education.
Alongside these services, the University of Birmingham are a part of nightline, which is a confidential support and information system run by students at the university.
They listen and support through various issues – including considering dropping out of university. This service runs from 6pm – 8am – a time where student services are unavailable.
You can get in touch with them via many ways including: by telephone, drop in services, email or chat online. Sessions are confidential so what you tell them will remain private.
Nightline also runs an awareness week, which allows them to be known around the university as another link of support.
The university itself currently have a team of wellbeing advisers, and found their selves advertising for more roles. Last month they advertised for an officer to join the team, and they have informed me that an officer will be joining that team shortly.
Wellbeing advisers at the University of Birmingham have been supporting students for years – and it’s a role that has been on the increase. The university also offer a full counselling service, which means in one capacity or another there will always be someone to speak to.
This information has clearly reached students, as a high percentage of students were aware of the services that the university provided. Those who were unsure about what services the university provided, however did know where to find them if they ever needed to speak to someone surrounding personal concerns.
Student services at Birmingham City University were both shocked and upset to hear about this case. They stressed the importance of advertising:
We advertise over all the campuses, and when students start their course they get given information about student services and where we are. Talks go on throughout the year on different things, and we also visit the different campuses.
While students like Lily are unaware of the services provided student services stated that they do:
Everything physically possible to make sure that students know we’re here.
Advertising is heavily relied on to get the message across to students, and continues throughout the year.
We advertise at the start of the year, as they get given leaflets when they start with their welcome packs. We also do inductions for all the new students on the faculties, and in conjunction with them.
They are given student services booklets detailing the services and areas we provide, alongside all the things we do throughout the year. I think it would be quite difficult to do anything else really.
We heavily advertise all the different areas and departments within student services – when you come in it’s quite clearly labelled out our areas and what we offer.
Student services admitted that students were aware of their presence within the university, and the services they offer are good. If no one in the department is able to help with student queries they will always be referred to someone who the services know can help.
However they did admit that the amount of information may be hard for students to take in, and finding the right way to share all the information available was hard.
They left with:
It’s a shame that particular students feel that they don’t know what services are available to them, however we do try out best to get ourselves out there.
However student services were unable to state what improvements were going to be made to the services as they already feel that they are doing all in their power to make their services the best they can be.
As Birmingham City University have a high dropout rate student services is something that the university itself should look into promoting more and making students aware.
When we contacted Coventry University to discuss the concerns that Courtny had and what could be done to improve those services, the university declined to answer.
They did however offer us a tour of their services, but were unwilling to comment over the phone about their services.
Responses like this question how the universities help students, if they are unable to comment on the services they provide over the phone, how can they inform students about these services?
During our investigation we have found that there seems to be a communications problem between student services and students, as many have either simply forgotten or were unaware of what services were available.
When contacting other institutions to ask about their student services Aston and Wolverhampton University were unable to respond.
Since dropping out both girls have re-entered education.
After realising that she had made the wrong choice in course Courtny went back to college to study Humanities and Social Sciences, and is now at the University of Sheffield.
Courtny said that no matter what support she may or may not have received, it wouldn’t have changed her opinion on dropping out. She knew that going straight into university wasn’t for her and needed to take a gap year.
She is happy with the decision that she made, she now feels that this course was better suited to her.
In September Lily enrolled at Bath Spa University to study media and communications.
She now feels more comfortable with her choice of university, and researched the area before jumping straight into the three-year commitment.
Lily has no regrets for leaving Birmingham City University, as she believes it was the right decision to make at the time. She knew that if stayed in Birmingham she wouldn’t be happy and this would in turn affect her studies.
Enrolling at Bath Spa University has been a positive experience for her so far, she is happy with her surroundings and has been able to adapt to living in Bath. She hopes to finish her studies at Bath and further her career in the media.
Lastly she left us with the comment that there we no plans to leave her studies this time around.