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Chapter 5: Reflections

Reflection on Chapter 4 Part 1 – Consideration of withdrawal

Photograph of attendees at the Practitioners Forum 2022
Headshot - Sarah Sharkey

Sarah Sharkey, Student Engagement Officer, Dublin Business School

Retention, progression, and withdrawal rates are a key focus of all HEIs. Unfortunately, the student experience was once again impacted in 2022 by the pandemic and many students struggled both academically and socially across all intakes. The 2022 National Report highlights worrying data on the consideration of withdrawal but provides a great insight into the reasons why students consider leaving a programme early.

Student engagement, particularly first year retention, is a fundamental strand of the DBS Student Engagement & Success Unit. Transition to third level education is always a challenge and like other institutions, we have developed induction and orientation packs alongside a dedicated support team. Identifying students at-risk and monitoring key metrics and underperforming students have now become standard practice in universities and early interventions take place. However, with the shift to a hybrid environment, independent learning, and limited social integration, many students found this year incredibly challenging. As reported, students often cite personal or family reasons, which can be difficult to unpack, as it can obscure the part that institutional factors play in students’ decision to leave. The Topics and Sub-topics provided are extremely useful, especially in terms of developing an action plan, as vulnerable students who ultimately withdraw from a programme often struggle to communicate with the support services. The research highlighting both final year undergraduate and postgraduate students' feelings on potentially withdrawing is also of particular interest and something that I feel further research should be undertaken in.

The findings presented in this report are highly beneficial for all HEIs. Poor course choice, pre-arrival information, academic preparedness, and student expectations must all be addressed. We must pay particular attention to financial issues, mental health, and accommodation, where further supports are also required. Finally, students must be encouraged to talk to support staff and engage with services, including student advisors, welfare, and counselling sessions and we must prioritise the need to inform students of their options and, should they decide to withdraw, help them plan accordingly.

Photograph of Brendan Murphy

Dr. Brendan Murphy, Head of Quality, Technological University of the Shannon

Chapter 4 on reasons for withdrawal contains a rich and valuable data set on withdrawal and a comprehensive analysis of responses on the reasons cited by students for considering withdrawal. This will be of significant interest and benefit to higher education providers and will complement existing data analysis in this important area. Non-progression, particularly of first years, has increasingly been an important metric and performance indicator with appropriate strategies and resources being deployed to support retention initiatives.

The results are situated within, and resonate with, experience on the ground. In the Technological University of the Shannon, an ongoing analysis of the reasons cited by students for (actual) withdrawal over a five-year period (in the former Limerick Institute of Technology) correlates with the findings and data presented by In this local analysis, the principal reasons cited have been dislike of the programme, health, personal, and others (unspecified). On further probing during withdrawal interviews, it was found that personal reasons and others (unspecified) most often included caring for a family member or mental health, or specific family issues such as bereavement. 

The findings presented in this chapter from provides a larger data set and further insights and the correlation with HEA non-progression data provides another important tool to support retention initiatives.