Higher Education

A Degree of Uncertainty. Why do some students choose to withdraw from University?

ROTA’s research focuses on UK-domiciled students from global majority and Gipsy, Roma, Traveller (GRT) communities at London universities. Statistically, applications from students from these backgrounds have risen in the last five years, but there are also more withdrawals among these groups.  

There is a need for better evidence on the reasons behind student withdrawals. 

ROTA’s new Pilot Study aims to explore the reasons behind non-continuation rates. Previous research by ROTA in 2019 looked at a range of factors that might negatively affect students’ decisions to apply for and continue their university studies. Financial hardship, fee-debt, and uncertainty about the future restructuring of student grants and university course fees in the wake of the Augur Review of Higher Education were examined as possible disincentives for some students. Disadvantage, racial discrimination, and bias also emerged as factors contributing to some GRT and global majority students’ decision to withdraw. (ROTA. 2019.)   

Interviews with Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Leads. 

ROTA is gathering evidence from interviews with university Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Leads about student withdrawals. EDI leads offer an insight into factors that may influence decisions by some students to defer, change course, or withdraw from their university. EDI Leads also know which support services are available to help students experiencing difficulties and whether these are culturally sensitive to the needs of students from global majority communities. We are also approaching Student Union officers who have equality-related roles such as Student Representation and Voice. A small amount of evidence gathered by ROTA suggests that some students from global majority communities do not feel as well accepted or integrated into university life as others. In some universities, there are few networks or support groups that are geared to their needs.   

Survey of students. 

ROTA is surveying students to ask about their experiences of university life. We are interested in issues relating to students’ decisions to withdraw, consider withdrawing, or interrupting their university course. Reasons may be associated with, for example, finances, accommodation, childcare arrangements, academic support, and access to welfare services. We are also asking whether students have experienced instances of discrimination and bias within their university and if these have contributed to decisions to withdraw or interrupt their studies. We would like to know if global majority and GRT students had access to networks, forums, or mentors at university to discuss any concerns causing difficulties for them to continue their studies. Students are also asked if they will agree to be interviewed as a follow-up to the survey, where more detailed information can be gathered on what influenced their decisions to withdraw – or to continue – with their studies.  

Funding to address the research gap, improve student retention rates, and combat discrimination in Higher Education.  

ROTA is currently seeking funding to extend this Pilot Study. There is a research gap around the reasons why a disproportionate number of UK students from some Global Majority, Gypsy, Roma, and Traveler communities withdraw from universities. Knowing the reasons will help to inform Higher Education institutions about measures they can take to improve the student experience and retention rates; to develop welfare and support services that cater to the needs of UK students from different cultural backgrounds; to inform policies which guard against direct and indirect discrimination.     

ROTA. 2019. Mind the Gap. Choice, opportunity, and access in Higher Education for UK-domiciled global majority and GRT students. Research Publication available HERE.