One in three tertiary students considers non-completion, says AUSSE

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Friday, 24 Apr 2009

For immediate release 24 April 2009
One in three tertiary students considers non-completion, says AUSSE

A third of Australian and New Zealand tertiary students seriously consider leaving their institutions before graduation, according to results from a new study of student engagement released today by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

A representative sample of more than 25,000 students from 29 Australian and New Zealand universities participated in the latest cycle of the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE), conducted in 2008 – the largest and most advanced survey of its kind.

Results show that, on average, 33 per cent of tertiary students consider leaving their institutions before graduation. Further, according to the AUSSE report, this figure is an underestimate, as it excludes students who have already discontinued their study.

Universities have been very successful in engaging students into study. The findings underline the challenges that institutions face in engaging students through to graduation.

Field of education has a significant effect on students’ ‘early departure’ intentions. Science and agriculture students are the most likely to remain engaged through to graduation. Architecture, education and creative arts students report being most likely to depart prior to degree completion.

Students from remote backgrounds, students with disabilities, international students, and Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Māori and Pasifik Islander students all report higher than average intentions of leaving study before completion.

Students are significantly more likely to consider leaving for practical or financial reasons rather than due to the quality of education.

Engaging students in the overall educational experience, providing effective individual support, and setting high expectations, however, may induce students to complete their education.

The AUSSE report reveals that university staff members underestimate the extent of the problem. In 2008, while about one out of every three Australasian students seriously considered departing their institution before graduation, staff saw the number as closer to one out of 10.

According to the AUSSE Director, ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr Hamish Coates, managing student engagement effectively is vital to enhancing student retention.

“The early departure rate varies from 22.0 per cent at one institution to 44.9 per cent at another. Clearly, these figures are serious, and carry relevance for students and institutions, for the professions and for the economy as a whole,” he says.

“The results as a whole, however, suggest that by monitoring students’ satisfaction, support and learning outcomes, higher education institutions can reduce early departure and set conditions that enhance educational success,” says Dr Coates.

The full report, Engaging Students for Success can be found at