x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

New help for students to cut university first-year dropouts

With an expanded study-skills course and more support for students, Abu Dhabi University hopes to cut the 30-40 per cent dropout rate by at least a quarter.

ABU DHABI // University chiefs are stepping up efforts to reduce the number of students who fail to make the jump from school and drop out in their first year.

With an expanded study-skills course and more support for students, Abu Dhabi University hopes to cut the 30-40 per cent dropout rate by at least a quarter.

The compulsory course is intended to develop skills such as note-taking, time management and IT.

In addition, the university college - in effect, the first-year department - has opened a new "academic success centre" to help with writing, maths and learning support.

Dr Steven Cornish, associate dean of the university college, hopes in time to reduce the first-year dropout rate to between 10 and 20 per cent.

"Until recently, most of the advising was done by faculty who have a lot of demands on their time," he said. "This new team can spend all their time advising students on everything from choosing the right courses to troubleshooting when a student gets into difficulty."

He says the uptake for the success centre has been good so far. Now, the university is collecting data to enable it to assess which students drop out, and why.

Previous studies have found that dropouts are overwhelmingly male, and pointed the finger at their easier access to the job market. Uniformed careers, in particular, offer young men the chance to work while demanding few if any qualifications. Women, by contrast, are largely compelled to have a university education if they want a job.

ADU is not the only university trying to cut its dropout rate. Over the past three years, the University of Sharjah, the largest private university with 11,000 students, has managed to reduce its dropouts from 30 to 20 per cent, and hopes to cut it further.

Its chancellor, Dr Samy Mahmood, says helping students in their first year, when they are most likely to leave, has been key.

Also, if students fail a course, the university does its best to give them a second chance in a subject more suited to their interests and skills.

"We have a progressive warning system," said Dr Mahmood. "When a student comes in and fails, we intervene as early as possible and give them options like catching up in the summer and taking fewer classes during term time. That helps quite a few."

Some, for example, go to the university's community college to study diplomas more suited to their academic levels, in subjects such as book-keeping or pharmacy assistance, with the option of taking a degree course later.

Amity University's new Dubai campus gives each student a mentor, to ensure they do not fall through the net. At its Indian campuses, where the same system is in place, only 10 per cent drop out.

The Dubai campus's academic director, Dr T R Venkatesh, puts this down to the focus and drive of students in India, where the competition for university places is fierce.

Headed by a senior lecturer and also drawing on alumni, the programme ensures students have a place to turn for both academic and personal issues.

There is also an intranet system that lets parents log in and see their child's academic scores and attendance records. This, says Dr Ventakesh, keeps families involved.

"It's about transparency," he said. "It's been proven to work in India and soon that system will be up and running here."

mswan@thenational.ae