Student retention a big issue for Scotland

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Despite Scottish universities recently shown to be at the bottom of the table for student retention, the same cannot be said with regards to Further Education figures. Education Scotland – the public body charged with supporting quality and improvement in Scottish education – awarded City of Glasgow College top marks in its recent review.

Formed in November 2010 following the merger of three Glasgow colleges, City of Glasgow College is one of Scotland’s largest Further Education institutions and home to over 30,000 students. Several areas were identified as Showcases of Excellence in the Education Scotland report; the number of learners who apply and proceed to enrolment has increased, learner withdrawals have reduced, and attainment has improved significantly.

With the introduction of area reviews, the monitoring of students throughout their academic lifecycle has never been more important. Positive results in enrolment, attrition rates, and achieved outcomes are fundamental to ensuring that a college hits its targets, achieves retention and receives and maintains its funding. One of the main things that the reviews have done is highlight the need for colleges to get hold of this data very quickly and be prepared to understand and cope with real-time changes.

Looking at performance is no longer a once-a-year task, but a 24/7 operation. As a result, colleges are increasingly looking for a simple way to analyse and measure student admissions targets, allowing them to identify trends and improve performance. Research shows that those who do best in the reviews have a comprehensive understanding of exactly what’s going on in their organisation, in addition to providing proactive recommendations on how to improve things.

Having this information at their fingertips helps colleges to stay competitive and frees up time to focus on interventions to improve; such as retention rates, meeting priorities in terms of local skills shortages, maximising income from funding for apprenticeships; or improving student performance and satisfaction. Of course, the question is how to achieve this…

One of the measures colleges can take to aid performance visibility is by introducing software that can help provide visibility across the organisation. ‘Following the college merger we were left with a number of different, and often outdated, legacy systems,’ explains Douglas Dickson, Head of Performance and Quality Assurance at City of Glasgow College. ‘It soon became apparent that we needed something to quickly pull all up-to-data into one place, providing a greater level of visibility and scrutiny.’

Web-based, college-specific student data analysis software maximises a college’s existing investment in its legacy systems by being flexible enough to bring reliable data feeds from each source, provide analysis and give a holistic view of college-wide performance which is easily accessible to all. Providing accurate, real-time monitoring and reporting of key performance indicators delivers greater visibility of student success, achievement and recruitment across the whole organisation, therefore reducing the need for time-consuming, and often inaccurate, ad-hoc reporting.

As a result, City of Glasgow College began using Active Dashboards, a college-specific dashboard solution, in August 2015. The dashboard provides information at course, curriculum, faculty and college level in real time. It covers performance indicators; student engagement activities; attendance monitoring; student questionnaire results and college performance target setting. The centralisation of information within the dashboard and ease of access, including when working remotely, has meant that all users are using the same information to support decision making. Instead of wading through numerous spreadsheets, staff are able to get the information that they need almost immediately. This has enabled tutors to review teaching areas and methods, look at performance to identify key trends, monitor and track learners, measure success and fundamentally improve student satisfaction.

So far, three quarters of the college’s teaching staff use Active Dashboards, contributing to the college both improving, and actively setting realistic targets for, retention.

Says David Dickinson, ‘Our external review by Education Scotland highlighted how our performance as an organisation has changed. In the last three years the sector in Scotland hasn’t grown but we have and that’s down to us having more detailed information, knowing our institution inside out and looking for, and building upon, commercial opportunities.’

Dynistic’s college-specific dashboard templates have currently been implemented in nearly 50 Colleges across the UK, and have been a key benefactor to colleges improving on their Ofsted, Estyn and Education Scotland reports.




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