A review and analysis of the management of retention at an institute of further and higher education in Northern Ireland

McMahon, John (2006). A review and analysis of the management of retention at an institute of further and higher education in Northern Ireland. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000c007


This research is a case study concerning retention in Further and Higher Education (FHE) generally and an Institute of Further and Higher Education in particular. This college will be fictitiously referred to as Lough Neagh Institute (LNIFHE). Retention is becoming increasingly important in education as it affects achievement with implications for any value added which could be gained and the overall provision of quality given to the learner. Poor retention generally results in a depleted range of skills acquired by the student. A policy on the management of retention has not yet been formally constructed, despite overall retention within LNIFHE developing a distinctive downward trend in some courses.

Initially a review of the literature indicated that the most pertinent areas to investigate in the management of retention were;
- factors involved in early withdrawal,
- support and guidance processes,
- quality systems as well as,
- strategies that were employed to optimise retention at LNIFHE.

The four aims of the study were built around these areas. To test opinion on some of these themes a sample of the three stakeholders most directly involved, the staff, students and senior management at LNIFHE during the years 2004-2005 was surveyed and collated. The methodology involved the techniques of questionnaires, semi-structured and open-ended interviews, contemporaneous comments recorded in the diary and desk analysis.

The investigation also studied the strategy employed to optimise retention by management at LNIFHE by examining some retention related policies from within the College Development Plan. The school improvement model of Creemers was analysed and found to be a useful tool, which could be adapted for use in LNIFHE. A variant of the model was proposed in the final chapter.

Retention research so far has been of an a-theoretical nature and generally does not account for the cumulative and interrelating effects of the external and internal factors which are known to be influential on students. The most important dimension which emerged in this study was the importance of motivation for students and how this is positively influence by better support provision. Within LNIFHE, there are differences in the perspectives of the three main stakeholders notably in the area of quality provision and partially as a result of this, implementation gaps between policy and practice exist with consequent negative implications for student retention. There is no procedure in LNIFHE for the identification of students who are at risk of withdrawing.

Some structural and organisational changes such as the construction of a retention policy the creation of the post of retention manager along with recommendation for improved monitoring, support and the maintenance of quality at all levels were suggested. It was proposed that better communication between the 3 stakeholders at LNIFHE will improve motivation of staff and students which will have a beneficial effect on retention.

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