There would appear to be every reason to doubt the effectiveness of general measures taken to improve study success. Educational scientists Jan Kamphorst and Ellen Jansen have issued this warning on the basis of research into the performance of first-year students at five universities of applied science in the north-east of the Netherlands. Factors that affect the study behaviour of students are not uniformly significant in every programme, which is why generic measures focusing on a single factor often have little effect on students’ study progress. Kamphorst and Jansen think that students would benefit more if measures were tailor-made and more attention was paid to the entire sequence of factors per programme. Kamphorst will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 14 November.
Over the last few years, a lot of effort has gone into trying to improve success rates throughout the higher education sector. Generic measures such as a binding study advice system were strongly focused on. Measures like this introduced at the institutional level have changed the circumstances and conditions for students across the board, but there is still uncertainty about their effectiveness at the individual programme level. Kamphorst’s research seems to indicate that the extent to which uniform factors explain the study success of first-year students differs per programme and per group of students. According to Kamphorst and Jansen, these findings correspond with information previously correlated for first-year university students.
The data analysed by Kamphorst was gathered by the Transition Monitor working group, which registers information every two years about the transition of secondary school pupils into higher education programmes. The figures show that a lot of students drop out or have doubts during this transition period. Between 2005 and 2010, first-year students accounted for two-thirds of the total number of students dropping out of university of applied science programmes. The five universities of applied sciences studied demonstrate hefty dynamics: 35 percent of new first-year students did not continue their first-choice programme. Data from questionnaires completed by first-year students as part of the Transition Monitor in the 2008-2009 academic year was used in three of the studies included in this research. Kamphorst used a second questionnaire to obtain extra data about the 2006-2007 and 2008-2009 programme years.
The Transition Monitor provides a mine of information about countless factors relating to study success. Examples include the mark for the final mathematics exam at secondary school, study style, contact hours, confidence and determination to complete the programme started. Kamphorst used combined analytical models to draw conclusions for both the total student population in the academic years studied and the categorized groups. Psychological models showed that confidence and determination to continue were good predictors of study progress. Fear of failure and doubts about the choice of programme can be linked to a tendency to procrastinate and ultimately drop out altogether, but not in the same way for all students.
However, a different picture emerges when the students are categorized according to gender, for example, or the specific discipline. In ethnically non-Dutch students, high self-confidence tends to encourage procrastination, while belief in their own abilities and intrinsic motivation are relatively important in terms of study progress. Procrastination has little impact on study progress among this group, but has more effect among native Dutch students.
The number of contact hours affects the progress of students studying healthcare and social studies disciplines, while the emphasis on independent study has a better effect on economics students. The technology sector shows more diversity: contact hours are relatively important to male students, while female students benefit from more time for independent study. In the economics sector, generally speaking, students benefit most if they are satisfied with the teaching of knowledge and skills and the active teaching methods, although this applies to a lesser extent in social studies and not at all in healthcare. Active preparation for active learning, for example, has a varied impact throughout the disciplines.
One of the broad conclusions that Kamphorst is keen to endorse is the importance of the student’s own determination to complete his or her studies. A large proportion of first-year students on many programmes are not entirely convinced when they embark on a programme. Determination to continue develops and becomes embedded during these first few months. The various models Kamphorst used all show that the will to continue is a vital aspect of study success. But there is no uniform method for removing doubts and strengthening determination that will work for all programmes: increasing the number of contact hours may work for one programme, but increasing independent study will work for another. According to Kamphorst, study success ultimately comes down to the personal determination of individual students: ‘After all, they have to do it themselves.’
Jan Kamphorst studied Educational Sciences at the University Groningen and is an educational advisor at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen. He will defend his thesis entitled ‘One size fits all? Differential effectiveness in higher vocational education’ on Thursday 14 November. His supervisor is Prof. W.H.A. Hofman, and co-supervisors are Dr Ellen Jansen, associate professor in the University Teacher Training Department of the University of Groningen, and C. Terlouw.
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