The first-year experience in higher education in the UK:final report

Yorke, Mantz and Longden, Bernard (2008) The first-year experience in higher education in the UK:final report. The Higher Education Academy, York. ISBN 9781905788613

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This report details the findings from Phase 2 of the study of the first-year experience, which focused on students who did not return in 2006-07 for the second year of full-time undergraduate study at their original institution. It also alludes to the findings from the on-course experiences of first-year students in the preceding academic year (Phase 1), and makes some comparisons with a study of non-completion that was conducted in the mid-1990s. In middle of the academic year 2005–06, students in a variety of institutions were generally very positive about their first-year experience, judging by some 7000 responses to the Phase 1 survey conducted roughly six months after enrolment. There was a high level of confidence that successful completion of the programme would result in the gaining of graduate-level employment. However, a number of factors were identified which indicated that, for some, student continuation was at risk, the main factors being inadequate prior information about the programme and/or the institution, and a concern regarding the financing of studies. Free-text responses indicated that the social side of higher education was particularly important to new students. Perhaps rather surprisingly, the responses to the Phase 1 survey of students from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds did not differ greatly from those of their more advantaged peers. The opportunity was taken in the present report to subject the Phase 1 data to further analyses which suggested that, although overall differences were small, there were signs that the relatively disadvantaged were less positive about some aspects of their experience. The Phase 2 study consisted of a postal questionnaire to all students who did not return for their second year at 25 varied institutions, based on 44 closed items similar to those used a decade earlier. The number of usable responses was 462. The general pattern of responses was quite similar to that obtained a decade ago from students who discontinued their studies in the mid-1990s, the major influences on non-continuation being: poor choice of programme; lack of personal commitment to study; teaching quality; lack of contact with academic staff; inadequate academic progress; and finance. Within this broad similarity, however, there were some hints that the issue of contact with academic staff was becoming more significant for continuation, and that finance was declining in significance. Consistent with the earlier study, nearly three-quarters of the respondents either had already re-engaged, or intended to re-engage with, higher education. The responses were analysed with respect to different demographic variables: qualitative findings are presented in this report, with detailed statistics being available on the Higher Education Academy’s website ( The inclusion on the survey form of spaces for students to write freely about their personal experiences encouraged some vivid descriptions of experience which, while not necessarily representative, complement the statistical analyses of the responses to the closed questions. The findings of Phase 2 are discussed with reference to the possibility of the enhancement of the student experience. Some aspects, such as the adoption of teaching approaches that actively engage students from the outset, are within institutions’ compass. Others, such as the choice-making of potential students, are partially amenable to institutional interventions. The projected downturn in the number of young people in the UK from around 2011 suggests that, for some institutions at least, a clear focus on the first-year experience of students will be vital.

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13 Mar 2013 14:49
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12 Sep 2023 03:38