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Chapter 4: Looking Deeper Part 1 - Consideration of withdrawal

Qualitative data analysis

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When responding to the question about whether or not respondents had considered withdrawal, respondents were offered the option of selecting “Other” as a reason for considering withdrawal in addition to the options outlined in the earlier sections. They were also offered a text box in which to describe the nature of the “Other” reason. This section provides a short content analysis of these responses.

A total of 2,889 respondents provided some amount of text in the text box for “other” reason for considering withdrawal. Each comment was coded for analysis by a single researcher. A total of 2,702 respondents were assigned a topic and a sub-topic. Some responses could not be coded in this way for the following three main reasons; the comment did not relate to a reason for withdrawal (n = 138), the meaning of the comment could not be understood or coded by the reader (n = 36), or the comment was too short to code (e.g., yes, no; n = 13). Of the 2,702 respondents assigned a topic and sub-topic, 241 of them provided a second reason. The reasons they stated are summarised in Table 4.1.1 below. They are arranged in order of most frequently cited topic to least. Within each topic, the sub-topics are arranged in order from most frequently to least.

Experience so far

‘Experience so far’ was the most frequently cited topic in the free text responses. Of the aspects of the experience that led respondents to consider withdrawing from their programme, the most frequently cited were ‘Workload is too much’, ‘Not enjoying course’, ‘Course too difficult’, and difficulties with ‘Balancing personal life, work, and study’.  These results suggest that some students are struggling, and it is likely that elements of their experience interlink to create this experience; if a student finds their course too difficult, it is likely that they will not enjoy it, or if they are struggling to balance the workload for the course with their other responsibilities, it may increase the pressure, they feel to reduce the number of responsibilities they carry.

Regretting choices

The next most cited topic in the free text responses was ‘Regretting choices’. Respondents expressed regret about their choices through responses such as suggesting that they had considered withdrawing from their current programme to ‘Transfer to another course’. This may be a different way of expressing the same regret as those who stated that they felt they “Chose [the] wrong course". These are students who have, at some point, regretted the choices they made and are not enjoying the consequences of those choices. Furthermore, it was not evident from the responses whether the respondents felt that in a fleeting moment, or whether they continue to suffer through a programme they believe is not the right one for them.

Perception of the course

The next most cited topic was ‘Perception of the course’. Here, the most frequently cited sub-topics were ‘Quality of teaching’ and ‘Poorly structured/ managed course’. Evidently there are respondents who, at some point in their programme or throughout, were dissatisfied with the quality of that programme to the degree that they considered discontinuing their studies. Links between the reasons for considering withdrawal can be seen in the sub-topic ‘Course not as expected’, which could have some overlap with the previous topic (Regretting choices). However, some respondents qualified statements related to ‘Course not as expected’ by saying that they had adjusted and were now enjoying the course, while others felt that their programme was “not as advertised”.


‘Psychological’ reasons for considering withdrawal included the ‘Impact on mental health’ of their programme, as well as ‘Self-doubt’. As stated elsewhere in this section, it is possible that there is more overlap between these topics than the short responses provided by respondents allow for interpreting. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that 10% of respondents who provided a response to this free text responses question specifically called out their mental health as a strong enough reason to withdraw from their programme, which warrants further investigation.

The environment

The final topic to feature in the free text responses was ‘The environment’. ‘Lack of support from HEI' was the most frequently cited sub-topic, with a smaller number of respondents specifically pointing to a lack of necessary facilities, such as facilities for students with disabilities. The aspects of making friends and interacting with others in their HEI featured as part of ‘The environment’ for some respondents, which suggests that respondents felt so out of place in their HEI that they considered withdrawing from their programme.


A range of other reasons were cited, some of which applied to a small number of respondents or were not sufficiently specific to code into one of the other topics.