further & higher education

Increasing Student Retention Across Higher Education

further & higher education

08:45 - 16:00

Tuesday 26 March 2019

America Square Conference Centre, London

This Forum will provide attendees with the opportunity to assess the current state of student retention across higher education. In addition, participants will hear from best practice case studies on increasing student engagement, implementing a successful peer mentoring scheme and increasing communication with students.


This Forum is designed for Higher Education sector. Typical job titles will include:

  • Pro Vice Chancellors
  • Directors of Faculty
  • Deans
  • Heads of Student Admissions and Success
  • Welfare and Retention Officers
  • Academic Directors
  • Student Experience Managers
  • Heads of Student Engagement and Retention
  • Academic Support Officers
  • Senior Lecturers
  • Department Heads
  • Academic Support Officers
Key Speakers Confirmed:
  • Dr Joan O’ Mahony, Academic Lead, Student Retention, Advance HE
  • Kathryn Petrie, Senior Economist, Social Market Foundation
  • Dr Phil Richards, Chief Innovation Officer, Jisc
  • Alexander Proudfoot, Chief Executive, Independent HE
  • Richard Brabner, Director, UPP Foundation
View the agenda and additional speakers

Over 29% of students in Higher Education in the UK will not complete their university degree. With 26,000 students dropping out of University within their first year it is becoming increasingly important for Universities to address the challenge of student retention fast.

With record percentages of students going to university it is important that institutions have strategies in place to ensure they are able to retain these students. A report published by the Social Market Foundation’s in 2017 highlights significant variations in performance across regions and highlights that disadvantaged students are more likely to drop out. Therefore, widening participation strategies that are in place across the higher education sector should focus on both encouraging disadvantaged students to go to university and help them complete their degrees as well. Furthermore, student retention is now an importance metric for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), so universities should be trying to ensure that all of their students are able to complete their studies, which will help them achieve a gold award.

In an increasingly competitive international university marketplace and with the introduction of the TEF it is imperative that universities are able to develop effective student retention strategies.

Universities that are able to deliver an outstanding student experience, increase retention rates, boost access and improve student engagement will thrive within the current higher education landscape.

Dr Phil Richards, Chief Innovation Officer, Jisc

Phil has a first degree in physics and doctorate in nuclear structure physics (with experiments undertaken at CERN) from University of Oxford. His early career was in e-learning, with roles at Cardiff University, University of Hull and King’s College London. He then transitioned into senior management, with positions at Aberystwyth University, University of Plymouth and most recently Director of IT at Loughborough University.

Phil is responsible for developing new national Jisc services including data & analytics, research data and repositories, AR/VR, and AI-driven next-generation digital learning.

Dr Debra Cureton, Senior Research Fellow, University of Wolverhampton

Dr Debra Cureton is the Research Development Manager and is based in the Doctoral College at the University of Wolverhampton. Her role focuses on individual development and equality of experience for both University staff and students. Additionally, Debra leads and contributes to research programmes pertaining to attainment, retention and progression.  Debra is currently contributing to a collaborative Catalyst project comprising of the Universities of Wolverhampton, Kingston, Hertfordshire and De Montford which focuses on BAME Student Attainment.  Debra also led the University of Wolverhampton’s contribution to the What Works Retention and Success Change Programme, contributed to collaborative cross sector research programmes including ‘Bridging the gap and Sharing the Learning’ and co-led the HEA funded Disparities in Student Attainment (DiSA)

Ross Renton, Pro Vice Chancellor Students, University of Worcester

Ross Renton is the Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Worcester. Ross has a wide range of responsibilities, including leading the strategy for delivering an outstanding student experience, widening participation and student success, community partnerships and graduate employability.

Ross’s research interests are in education policy and he has delivered papers on this work nationally and internationally. Ross is regularly invited to speak at conferences to share his knowledge on widening participation to HE, student engagement, HE policy and the ‘Suicide Safer Project’. Ross is a Widening Participation expert for Subject Level TEF.

Victoria Carroll, Peer Mentoring Officer, Aston University

Victoria has been at Aston for 12 years, beginning in the outreach team co-ordinating student volunteering projects, and now managing the university wide undergraduate Peer Mentoring programme. She is passionate about enabling students to develop their skills and get the most out of student life. Mentoring at Aston encompasses schemes to support students at all stages of their university journey with an aim to ease transition to university and increase retention, success and employability.

Alex Proudfoot, Chief Executive, Independent Higher Education

Alex oversees the association’s strategic development, manages its day-to-day activities and represents members at external meetings and committees. He is also a Trustee of UKCISA, the UK Council for International Student Affairs. Alex worked previously in IT before five years as Communications Manager for the British Accreditation Council for Independent Further and Higher Education. He holds a Bachelor’s in Music and a Master’s in Philosophy.


Registration, Refreshments and Networking


Chair's Welcome Address

Luke Millard, Director of Education Development Services, Birmingham City University (CONFIRMED)


Morning Keynote: Understanding the Landscape of Student Retention

Dr Joan O’Mahony, Senior Advisor (Student Retention & Success), Advance HE (CONFIRMED)


Special Keynote: Analysing Student Drop-Out Rates and Offering Solutions to Boost Retention

  • Exploring the key findings from ‘On course for success? Student retention at university’, including the correlation between lower student satisfaction rates and student drop-outs
  • Examining the different factors that can cause lower retention rates, such as living costs, institutional factors, student characteristics and student satisfaction
  • Understanding the recommendations put forward by SMF to improve retention such as; prioritising higher education participation as a route for social mobility and preparing prospective students for the university experience
  • Discussing why 1 in 10 students in London and the North West are leaving higher education and how universities can work with the government to ensure they are creating inclusive environments in relation to housing and transport for all students

Kathryn Petrie, Economist, Social Market Foundation (CONFIRMED)


Sponsored Session

Senior Representative, Studiosity (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


Case Study: Ensuring Effective Communication with Students to Improve Retention Rates

  • Discussing how the University of Wolverhampton improved retention by ensuring students understood what was expected of them before starting assignments including communicating assessment criteria and giving students formal opportunities for discussion
  • Creating a communication pathway between lecturers and students to improve student engagement and increase student confidence throughout their studies
  • Ensuring working students are supported throughout their studies by creating effective communication pathways to allow assignments to be completed within a shorter time-scale
  • Outlining the challenges to student retention for non-traditional students, including first-generation students and over 30’s and the additional challenges these groups may have, such as term-time jobs

Dr Debra Cureton, Senior Research Fellow, University of Wolverhampton (CONFIRMED)


Case Study: Enhancing Student Retention by Offering an Outstanding Student Experience

  • Exploring how Aston University has implemented a peer mentoring scheme to create an outstanding student experience for all students
  • Understanding the benefits of peer mentoring and the positive impact this has has on retention rates by increasing students social and academic confidence
  • Discussing the success of the peer mentoring programme in creating an inclusive environment for all students and increasing communication between students and university staff on a university wide scale
  • Sharing guidance on the lessons learned from the implementation of the peer mentor scheme and how to attract students into being mentors

Victoria Carroll, Peer Mentoring Officer, Aston University (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Lunch and Networking


Afternoon Keynote: Understanding and Tackling the Causes of Students Drop-Outs

  • Highlighting the possible barriers to retention for disadvantaged or under represented groups
  • Exploring what universities can do to increase the amount of under represented student groups completing their degrees by emphasising the importance of preparing prospective students for university life
  • Discussing why it is vital for universities to understand why ethnicity is a factor in a student decision to leave higher education, including lack of inclusion, in order to be able to effectively combat this
  • Sharing guidance on how universities should work in partnership with the government and other institutions to provide a cohesive approach to improving retention

Richard Brabner, Director, UPP Foundation (CONFIRMED)


Special Keynote: Effectively Using Learning Analytics to Increase Student Retention

  • Increasing the focus on retention: discussing why universities should be focussing on student retention rates to stop more than 29,000 full time students from dropping out within their first year
  • Understanding the role of learning analytics in student retention and how they can help to identify students at risk of dropping out by reviewing attendance and grade data
  • Discussing the next steps once a student has been identified as being at risk of dropping out and how to continuously track this through learning analytics
  • Assessing the effectiveness of any interventions made in real time and being able to make changes to intervention methods quicker
  • Exploring the wider implications that learning analytics evaluations can have on student services across a whole higher education institution
  • Sharing guidance from various case studies that have successfully used learning analytics to impact their retention methods

Dr Phil Richards, Chief Innovation Officer, Jisc (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers


Refreshments and Networking


Case Study: Optimising Data Usage to Inform Student Retention Policies

  • Exploring how Nottingham Trent University (NTU) used annual research questionnaires to understand the possible reasons behind students leaving the university and how this data impacted their retention policies including implementing a peer support system and creating a student dashboard
  • Discussing how the NTU student dashboard was implemented and how this affected student retention rates by measuring engagement and notifying the university of students who are at risk of dropping out
  • Understanding the importance of creating an engagement and retention team to ensure this is at the forefront of the universities agenda by making staff aware of possible barriers to retention
  • Highlighting the most successful methods for increasing student retention at NTU such as helping students take ownership for their studies, and how NTU plan to implement future projects such as a peer support and mentoring scheme

Ed Foster, Student Engagement Manager, Nottingham Trent University (CONFIRMED)


Case Study: Engaging and Supporting Students from Widening Participation Groups

  • Discussing how the University of Worcester implemented the innovative Reach scheme to support student engagement using technology.
  • Understand how the roles of Professional Services, including Estates and Facilities can support the retention of Commuter Students.
  • Understanding how the University of Worcester is effectively promoting Higher Education to under-represented groups.
  • Exploring the role of Student Wellbeing teams and Students’ Unions to support student retention and success.
  • Sharing the lessons learned from the University of Worcester’s approach to student experience and support and understanding why it was shortlisted for the Times Higher Education 2018 award ‘Outstanding Support for Students’

Ross Renton, Pro Vice Chancellor Students, University of Worcester (CONFIRMED)


Closing Keynote: Understanding the Challenges Facing the Independent Higher Education Sector in Relation to Student Retention

  • Exploring the challenges facing the independent HE sector including having a higher rate of students who are considered to have a higher risk of dropping out
  • Understanding how accelerated degrees may benefit underprivileged students and lead to higher retention rates for independent higher education institutions as a result of a reduction in tuition fees
  • Highlighting how universities can encourage further student engagement with support services to reduce drop out rates
  • Sharing guidance on how policies and procedures to increase student retention for independent higher education providers can be applied to the wider higher education sector

Alexander Proudfoot, Chief Executive, Independent HE (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Chair's Summary and Close

*programme subject to change 

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