http://b.vimeocdn.com/ps/305/301/3053010_300.jpg‘Retention’ in the UK refers to students remaining within one HE institution and completing their programme of study within a specific timeframe. ‘Success’ recognises that students benefit from HE study in a wider range of ways, including personal development and progression into the labour market or further learning.
We work with institutions and other bodies to develop evidence-informed approaches to improving the retention and success of all students. We have a programme of work to disseminate research and support institutional development.
New: The final report of the What works? Student Retention and Success programme has been published by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation  (July 2012). Building student engagement and belonging in higher Education at a time of change: Final report from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme.
An Executive summary is also available: Summary of findings and recommendations from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme.
Building student engagement and belonging in higher education at a time of change: a summary of findings and recommendations from the What works? Student Retention & Success programme
What works? Summary report.

The 'What Works?' programme sought to analyse and evaluate best practice skills to ensure high student retention in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), with a particular focus on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Twenty two HEIs collaborating through seven distinct projects participated in the programme from 2008-11. The methodology consisted of combining student survey data, qualitative research with students and staff, literature reviews and analysis of institutional data.
A fuller synthesis and discussion of the programme’s findings and both practical and strategic implications are given in the full programme report. Detailed findings are set out in the seven individual project reports. In addition, a compendium of effective practices in higher education has been published to provide more practical exemplars of successful interventions drawn from the institutions that have participated in What Works? and from the wider sector. Publisher: Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
“The work undertaken within the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme has given the opportunity to those institutions involved to develop and enhance the evaluation of their strategies and approaches further. It is now vital that the lessons learned and progress made through the programme is shared with and benefits all HE providers and their students. HEFCE will continue to encourage institutions to develop and enhance initiatives which contribute to success throughout the whole student lifecycle, including progression to post-graduate study and into employment.”
Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE
“The benefits that a university education typically adds to an individual’s career prospects and to their quality of life generally is widely recognised, but is something that needs greater articulation. The outcomes of the seven projects, summarised in this report, will help to convey this message and provide an excellent foundation to continue both the sharing and development of good practice across the sector.”
Professor Eric Thomas, President of Universities UK
Foreword

What is the secret of success in higher education? What can universities do to help prevent students from dropping out of their studies? These are clearly vitally important questions. Both morally and educationally, institutions have a duty to do everything they can to help students make a success of their higher education. At a time of profound change in the sector, these questions take on an added urgency. Students are investing heavily in their higher education and institutions stand to lose a considerable sum of money for each student that drops out.
This report is therefore greatly to be welcomed. It provides a timely and important set of insights into What Works? based on the experience of a wide range of interventions across the sector. The result is a radical new message. In place of the received wisdom of the importance to students of choice and flexibility, is the finding that it is a sense of belonging that is critical to both retention and success. It is the human side of higher education that comes first – finding friends, feeling confident and above all, feeling a part of your course of study and the institution – that is the necessary starting point for academic success.
This report challenges institutions to look afresh at their priorities and to consider: how the curriculum might be reorganised to provide for sustained engagement between teachers and students; how teaching can be organised to create student learning communities; and how to convey the message to students that they belong. The projects reported briefly here and at more length in the full report of the What Works? programme, offer a number of important new insights. If our higher education institutions are to maximise both their students’ happiness and their future success, these insights deserve close study across the sector.
Professor Patricia Broadfoot CBE, University of Bristol, Chair of What Works? Advisory Group
Introduction
This report presents a summary of the findings and recommendations of the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme, initiated and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and HEFCE.
With much widening participation research concentrating on the effectiveness of outreach and pre-entry work, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation was keen to support the higher education sector in identifying and sharing best practice, across the student lifecycle, to enable students from disadvantaged backgrounds, in particular, to succeed in higher education. HEFCE wished to support the improved evaluation and dissemination of good practice with regards to student retention and success, and to further build the evidence base for successful retention practice. This followed a National Audit Office report of 2007, which confirmed the strong performance of higher education institutions in retaining their students, but also found that the sector was carrying out little evaluation of the impact and transferability of good practice.
This is a time of immense change in the higher education system. The government is aiming to use student choice as a major driver in shaping HE provision, and some commentators anticipate that increased student fees will lead to higher expectations and, some argue, a stronger ‘consumer’ mindset amongst students. In this context, the need for institutions to understand how they can most effectively translate their strategic intentions to improve student retention and success into activities that will most effectively impact on student, department and institutional-level outcomes, is clearly paramount.
The What Works? programme has therefore sought to generate robust, evidence-based analysis and evaluation about the most effective practices to ensure high continuation and completion rates. Twenty two higher education institutions, collaborating through seven distinct projects (see p.12), which were selected through a competitive process, participated in the programme from 2008–11. They undertook extensive research to inform their enquiries and test specific hypotheses. Most studies combined student survey data, qualitative research with students and staff, literature reviews and analysis of institutional data.
A fuller synthesis and discussion of the programme’s findings and both practical and strategic implications is given in the full programme report. Detailed project-level findings are set out in the seven individual project reports. In addition a Compendium of Effective Practice in Higher Education Retention & Success has been published to provide more practical exemplars of successful interventions, drawn from the institutions that have participated in What Works? and from the wider sector. A second edition will be published in July 2012.
The Higher Education Academy will be leading ongoing work to support institutional teams across the sector to implement changes informed by the What Works? programme. Further details will be available in the summer from retention&success@heacademy.ac.uk. Download Building student engagement and belonging in higher Education at a time of change: Final report from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme.
Conclusions

This significant programme of evaluation and research reinforces and extends our knowledge about improving student retention and success. This is particularly important at a time like this when we stand on the precipice of radical change that has not been attempted in any other country. In the light of the higher student tuition fees, what will encourage students to participate in higher education, and reinforce their decision to stay and enable them to make the most of the opportunity they have selected? This study finds that belonging will go a long way to achieving these outcomes. Institutional approaches that promote belonging will have the following characteristics:
• supportive peer relations;
• meaningful interaction between staff and students;
• developing knowledge, confidence and identity as successful HE learners;
• an HE experience that is relevant to interests and future goals.
The study finds that student engagement and belonging are central to improving student retention and success. This challenges institutions to rethink their priorities, policies, processes and practices to enable a culture of belonging to be realised. The programme makes a significant contribution by recognising the importance of a mainstream approach to addressing student retention through a culture of belonging that maximises the success of all students, as opposed to interventions targeted at particular groups of students. This approach, which places the academic sphere at the heart of improving student retention and success, recognises the need for institutional transformation, as opposed to a student deficit approach that blames students and/or requires them to change in order to benefit from higher education. Such an approach tends towards reproduction, and continues to disadvantage non-traditional students and others who have not traditionally prospered in higher education. The What Works? approach puts academic programmes and high quality, student-centred learning and teaching at the heart of effective student retention and success.
Some of the key messages echo findings from the US and smaller studies in the UK. This, however, is a sizeable project that involved 22 higher education institutions and hundreds of students over a three-year period. The seven projects had different foci, and used a range of methods, but they all point to the overarching findings of this programme. The diversity of sites, methods and researchers extends the reliability and applicability of these findings, as the messages have high levels of consistency.
Challenges remain about relating research findings and evaluation of specific practices from particular contexts to improving practice within one’s own institution. To further assist with the process of translating global findings to effective practices we have compiled a sister publication, Compendium of effective practice: Proven ways of improving student retention and success (Andrews et al., 2012). The Paul Hamlyn Foundation is continuing to work with the Higher Education Academy and Action on Access to support institutional teams from 2012-2015 to review institutions’ strengths and areas for development, implement changes at the strategic and academic programme levels and to evaluate the impact of changes on student retention.
What to do now

i. Use this report, the summary report, the project reports, the Compendium of effective practice (Andrews et al., 2012), and research and practice from your own institution to engage colleagues in debate about student success. You might find the institutional reflective checklist a useful starting point for discussion.
ii. Use your institutional data and data in the HE system to assess your strengths and weakness with regard to student retention. Supplement this with further institutional data and research, such as National Student Satisfaction survey results and local research with students and staff to extend your understanding.
iii. Identify your priority areas for development, thinking about changes at the strategic and programme levels in particular.
iv. Establish teams to further review priority areas and develop and implement an action plan.
v. Consider joining the Higher Education Academy’s Retention and Success Change Programme to facilitate the process. Download Building student engagement and belonging in higher Education at a time of change: Final report from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme.