22 November 2016
National research led by the University of the Sunshine Coast has lifted the lid on the types of university experiences that encourage students to stick with their degrees and enjoy their studies, despite disadvantages or difficult circumstances.
USC Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students) Professor Karen Nelson said the findings revealed new information about how institutions could positively influence their students’ experiences to strengthen their learning outcomes and combat the reasons causing students to leave.
The findings of the project, ‘Shaping the 21st Century student experience at regional universities’, were presented at a recent symposium in Sydney.
The 18-month project, commissioned by the Commonwealth Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT), involved 99 interviews with students and staff from USC, University of Southern Queensland, Southern Cross University, Central Queensland University, University of New England, James Cook University, Charles Sturt University and Federation University.
It also analysed student experience using data from most of these universities.
The research team of Professor Nelson; Kylie Readman, who is Director of USC’s Centre for Support and Advancement of Learning and Teaching; and Dr Ian Stoodley made six recommendations for the sector and three for the Government.
To see further details, go to http://shapingtheregionalstudentexperience.com.au/
Professor Nelson said the findings reinforced the importance of student wellbeing and positive interactions with peers and staff, and recommended more universal application of programs that proactively developed extra tertiary and work-related skills.
“Activities like these promote confidence, encourage peer learning and develop a sense of belonging among students, which positively influences their sense of achievement at university and their outcomes,” she said.
“These initiatives are critical for engaging non-traditional first-year students, particularly those who are the first in their families to attend university, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, Indigenous students, and those with disabilities.
“At universities such as USC, which are committed to serving diverse populations in their regions, we now understand the importance of reaching out to students early – in their first year of study – and our attrition rates are improving.”
“Emotional engagement is the key. It’s not just about learning. It’s about how well people feel about their learning and their learning behaviours. If universities intervene early enough with effective programs, these will help students combat the challenges of previous disadvantage.”
Professor Nelson said the researchers’ advice for the higher education sector included reviewing data collections to provide further insight into what elements of the student experience should be measured and enhanced.
— Julie Schomberg