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A retention strategy for universities

Abu Dhabi University is not the only institution having trouble keeping students in the classroom or ensuring they get the most out of their time spent there.

If 90 per cent of life is showing up, as the comedian Woody Allen proclaimed, a fair number of students in the capital have missed that first lesson - and many more. Rates of truancy and drop outs of students at the nation's universities are nothing to laugh at. As we reported yesterday, Abu Dhabi University has expelled 126 students for failing to show up.

Despite repeated warnings - some given as far back as 2003 - students have now been thrown off the university's rolls. What's worse, Abu Dhabi University is not the only institution having trouble keeping students in the classroom or ensuring that they get the most out of time spent there.

The expulsions raise larger questions about the need for a nationwide retention strategy. Though universities have attempted to tackle retention rates in various ways including monitoring and counselling initiatives, a more comprehensive and unified approach is overdue. But where to start?

There is a paucity of information available to researchers and educators. Leaders of universities must take a more serious and unified look at who is most likely to miss class or drop out altogether. Only then can they understand the underlying causes of why they are doing so and what can be done about it - as the UAE has challenges unique to its educational landscape.

Studies from other nations have demonstrated that it's not always a matter of students shirking their responsibilities. The UK's widening participation strategy has worked to remove the barriers to completing university study. Bryan Gilroy, vice provost at Zayed University, has also observed how the issue is not one only for educators to confront: schools, families and the community must come together to tackle it, he says. Indeed, when communities are more invested in education, students are more likely to prosper.

Some problems are logistical. Many universities are difficult for students to reach. There are few bus or transport links between universities and urban housing developments. On the other hand, students themselves must not be let off the hook.

There are too many instruments not being used to keep students in school. It's time to put them to work before any more young people squander an opportunity and their potential.

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