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Staying the Course: background

 

There is a substantial research base, built over the last forty years on student retention and success and it is noted that the transition to higher education can be difficult for some students as they struggle with both social and academic integration (Harvey & Drew, 2006). Although attrition can occur at any time, the first year is critically significant (Yorke1999) and whilst there is no simple formula for easing the transition and therefore retention of a diverse student body, it must be noted that first impressions can directly influence students (Andrew et al 2008 and Edward 2003). The process of induction and building a relationship with students is therefore important (Harvey and Drew, 2006); and programmes that aim to gradually build both academic and social relationships will support students during their time in higher education. By maximizing positive experiences and managing student transition sympathetically institutions can build positive relationships with new students which Yorke & Longden (2008) consider „bends the odds ‟ in favour of student success.

A first year programme that is built around information transfer and not relationship building can confuse and dishearten students newly arrived on campus and exacerbate their predisposal to withdraw (Edward 2003). Therefore the two main aims should be to avoid information overload (Hamshire & Cullen 2008 and Harvey & Drew 2006) and facilitate the development of academic and peer relationships; so students feel part of the university community and can become accustomed to the university culture (Edward 2003). As reported by Yorke & Longden (2008) simply making friends seems to be a crucial part of a positive transition to higher education. Students on Health Professional commissioned programmes have the added complexity of making the transition to becoming a health care professional.

Previous studies by the research team with the Physiotherapy programme at Manchester Metropolitan University over the last four years have identified that a significant group of the first year students were unprepared for the higher education environment and their professional transition which can lead to early attrition (Hamshire et al 2008, Hamshire and Cullen 2009). These students struggled to develop as autonomous learners with core degree level skills during their transition to higher education which had a lasting impact on their engagement and motivation throughout their degree programme (Hamshire et al 2008). This proposed sequential exploratory study will build on these findings (Hamshire and Cullen 2009), to develop understanding of the factors that influence retention and further develop effective interventions tosupport student transition across the Healthcare professions, with particular reference to social inclusion.