Retention and success data

Department of Education and Training (DET)

Government statistics on attrition, success and retention in higher education are now available for 2014, from the Department of Education and Training website. DET hosts a number of statistical reports examining data. Some highlights include:

Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

Edwards, D., & McMillan, J. (2015). Completing university in a growing sector: Is equity an issue? Retrieved from

This recent ACER publication reports on the completion rates of Australian university students focussing on equity groups.

Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE)

Up until 2013 the AUSSE provided data on students' perceptions of their university experience. In 2012 30 Australian and NZ institutions participated in this survey to gather information to assist institutions to improve student outcomes and manage and monitor programs and services.

The AUSSE website provides links to reports and data, questionnaires and resources from the AUSSE 2012.

Benchmarking, analysis and comparison

Archer, et al. 2014. Benchmarking the habits and behaviours

Archer, E., Chetty, Y. B., & Prinsloo, P. (2014). Benchmarking the habits and behaviours of successful students: A case study of academic-business collaboration. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(1), 62-83.

This case study describes the piloting of a corporate tool called Shadowmatch to provide data on students' habits and behaviours at the University of South Africa to understand and predict student success. The instrument was adapted to assess students' potential against benchmarks, to enable the profiling of students, and to use individual reports and personal development plans to increase self-awareness and self-efficacy and encourage 'successful' behaviours.

The authors examine the difficulties in implementing a commercial product in the higher education environment with some concerns in defining success in the academic environment as opposed to the corporate environment, and issues of data ownership, security and privacy.

The authors suggest that as technology rapidly advances outsourcing support functions to external providers will further increase in order that universities may respond dynamically and flexibly to support their students.

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Coates, H. Ransom, L. 2011. Dropout DNA, and the genetics of effective support

Coates, H., & Ransom, L. (2011). Dropout DNA, and the genetics of effective support. AUSSE Research Briefings, 11(June) Retrieved from:

This briefing draws on data from the 2010 Australasian Survey of Student Engagement, with a sample size of 25,950 students. It examines reasons behind students' early departure, and the rates of attrition for different subgroups of students. An analysis of the data highlights the importance of providing successful student support activities, individualised to meet specific need. Whilst first year student attrition rates had dropped by 8% between 2008 and 2010, later year students increasingly considered departing university before graduation.

Given that the provision of student support is strongly associated with retention data, the authors argue for a more structured approach to retention, reflected in policies and practices, in accountability and in rewarding faculties and academic staff who demonstrate effective support for students.

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Edwards, D. McMillan, J. 2015. Completing university in Australia

Edwards, D., & McMillan, J. (2015). Completing university in Australia: A cohort analysis exploring equity group outcomes. Joining the Dots Research Briefing, 3(3), 1-11.

This research briefing paper published by ACER focuses on under-represented students as they progress through university courses. An analysis of national data collected from HESC and facilitated through tracking of students via a student support number (CHESSN) reveals some interesting statistics on retention of students from three key equity groups: SES, region of residence and Indigenous students.

The analysis of enrolment data found lower course completion rates can be attached to part-time and external enrolments, low ATAR and over the age of 25. These characteristics are more likely to be found within the equity groups.

This data may be useful in developing strategies to addressing attrition and overcome barriers to completion of courses.

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Hagel, P. et al. 2012 Conceptualising and measuring student engagement

Hagel, P., Carr, R., & Devlin, M. (2012). Conceptualising and measuring student engagement through the Australasian survey of student engagement (AUSSE): A critique. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(4), 475-486. doi:10.1080/02602938.2010.545870

This study of the validity of using the AUSSE as a tool to measure student engagement reveals limitations in the contexts and concepts of student engagement in Australia.

The paper identifies and discusses alternative conceptions of engagement and evaluates the AUSSE scales relating to engagement. Based on the USA's NSSE, the authors posit the AUSSE fails to capture important elements due to contextual differences between the two countries and the adequacy in applying the scales to Australian students. The authors caution universities against relying on the survey data for use by institutional policy-makers and to be held accountable to government for performance relating to student engagement.

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Kuh, G. 2009. The national survey of student engagement

Kuh, G. D. (2009). The national survey of student engagement: Conceptual and empirical foundations. New Directions For Institutional Research, 2009(141), 5-20.

The author summarises the history of the concept of student engagement and reviews the development of the NSSE in this article. The design of the US national survey allowed for engagement - defined as quality of effort and involvement, to be reliably measured through student and institutional performance. The NSSE aims to provide data as process indicators for use to improve the performance of students and institutions. It analyses results to document educational practice and, additionally, for public advocacy. 

The NSSE questionnaire provides high quality, behavioural data on the contributors to student success. This article includes a list of the NSSE benchmarks in Appendix B, based on key survey questions, capturing powerful aspects of the student experience.

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Yorke, M. 2014. The development and initial use of a survey

Yorke, M. (2014). The development and initial use of a survey of student 'belongingness', engagement and self-confidence in UK higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 1-13. doi:10.1080/02602938.2014.990415.

Three constructs, "belongingness", engagement and self-confidence, are measured by a short survey questionnaire across a wide range of higher education contexts. This report assesses the validity of the survey instrument and whether it provides a longitudinal picture of diverse cohorts of students, and whether the disaggregated data is useful for institutions to assist in intervention and enhancement activities, and as a benchmarking tool.

The report findings show the survey instrument to be adequate for the purposes of gathering data on various aspects of the student experience and thereby informing institutions on particular focus areas.

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