By Jocelyne Bouzaid

New report: How Australian universities are improving student retention


Almost a third of higher education students won’t complete their degree in eight years, and lower student engagement and satisfaction in 2020 and 2021 could lead to an increase in attrition rates.

Balancing work and study, family and career obligations, financial strains, and a myriad of everyday challenges makes the reality of being a student extremely demanding. 

As it stands, around three in every 10 students won’t complete their degree in eight years, and the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just add fresh challenges but drew back the curtain on existing issues impacting student retention, including accessibility, engagement, safety and the quality of the digital experience. 

While the full impact of the pandemic on higher education is not yet known, research indicates that lower student engagement and satisfaction across 2020 and 2021 could lead to an increase in attrition rates.

One key to retention is engagement – and this is a unique and exciting time for universities to build engagement into student experience in new and informed ways. 

Simplus turned to the experts for practical advice about how this can be done. The standout theme from the university insiders we consulted is that digital technologies are increasingly critical to improving student attrition, contributing to everything from student wellbeing and safety to improved accessibility and the creation of compelling learning experiences. 

We’re excited to share these insights with you in our new ebook, 6 ways Australian universities are improving student attrition. Here’s a sneak peek of the ebook’s advice.

Integrate systems to raise red flags early

“A single source of information can track not only student interactions with support services, but can integrate their course and housing information. This can help in identifying red flags that indicate a student might need help.” – Dr Benjamin Wilkes, Head – Student Wellbeing, Education, University of Sydney

Dr Wilkes gives us a behind-the-scenes look at Sydney University’s Safer Communities initiative which, among other things, makes it possible to identify signs of disengagement early and provide support to assist and retain the student. 

Promote problem-solving through engagement

“Engagement is often a proxy for retention. If a student is engaged with their university, they are more likely to seek ways to solve the challenges they face in order to stay at the university.” – Professor Kevin Ashford-Rowe, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Digital Learning), Queensland University of Technology

Professor Ashford Rowe shares his experience of creating a university that is digital at heart, delivering compelling student experiences across both the physical and digital campuses.

Reorient and rebuild collective memory 

“Students returning after almost two years need a complete reorientation – they’ve lost their collective memory of how to be a student and that can lead to a real loss of confidence and feeling of isolation.” – Professor Jennie Shaw, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice President (Academic), University of Adelaide

Professor Shaw shares her insights into how offering first-year style support to students in their later years isn’t just a fix for the post-pandemic cohort but an approach that will offer long-term value.

Offer mentoring and build community

“Mentoring programs can be a powerful tool for facilitating [that] community connection and accountability. I’ve seen it change lives, especially when it comes to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects.” – Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen, Honorary Appointment as a Visiting Fellow, University of Technology, Sydney

Dr Beekhuyzen has seen first-hand the impact of mentoring on the choices students make about completing their studies and offers her view on how to leverage mentoring for the greatest impact. 

Read more practical advice on retention. Download our new ebook 6 ways Australian universities are improving student attrition.

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