130 university leaders and senior management, national and European policy makers, companies and other higher education representatives gathered in Copenhagen earlier this week for the Tracking the Higher Education Student Lifecycle Conference.
The event, at the Aarhus University Copenhagen Campus, brought together a wide range of stakeholders involved in the design and implementation of initiatives for tracking students and graduates (during their studies and into the labour market) for a presentation and discussion of the preliminary findings of the TRACKIT project. This two-year project, led by EUA, has undertaken a study to provide an overview of tracking procedures in 31 countries. This has been based on a qualitative survey, a series of focus groups, and site visits to 23 European universities in 11 countries. The survey has been well supported by EUA members, in particular the national rectors’ conferences.
Presenting the project findings in Copenhagen, Michael Gaebel (EUA) told the audience that the number of tracking initiatives being developed in Europe (either at the institutional or national levels) appeared to be increasing. This trend has been driven by a number of factors such as the moves towards student-centred learning and rising participation rates, which also means that access, retention, but also employability and entry into the labour market are increasingly used as criteria to measure higher education provision. At the same time, growing use of data in public policy making,  and enhanced technical possibilities for data collection have also driven the development of tracking.
The preliminary results of the TRACKIT study suggest that while some countries appear to prioritise the surveying of graduates, others focus almost entirely on student progress. Generally, there seems to be a trend towards combining both goals, which is already the case in some countries. The conference clearly proved that despite the fact that national frameworks for tracking differ considerably, regarding drivers and use, there is a strong demand for exchange of experience and sharing of good practice between institutions.
Participants in Copenhagen also discussed the advantages and disadvantages of centralised (national) approaches to tracking but also heard how ‘shared’ approaches, where universities participate in the design and implementation of centrally-led approaches, are becoming increasingly common.
Overall, the study and the event both highlighted that universities are generally very positive about tracking initiatives, as it enables them for example to have a better understanding of the overall student experience, what contributes to success, drop-out rates and the development of student support and career services. Tracking has also helped for example, to create better awareness of teaching results, and to contribute to the overall strategic development of universities.
Nevertheless institutions have also pointed to a number of challenges with tracking such as problems related to ‘survey fatigue’, or difficulties with following up on the information they have collected.
Following this event EUA will now be drafting a detailed report on the outcomes of this project that is due to be published in September 2012.
Presentations from the conference will also be posted shortly on the event website.
The TRACKIT project is co-organised with the Irish Universities Association/UCD Geary Institute, Hochschul-Informations-System GmBH (HIS), Lund University, University of the Peloponnese/Centre for Social and Educational Policy Studies and Aarhus University, and supported by the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme. More information on the project is available here.