Staying on course: factors affecting first year international students’ decisions to persist or withdraw from degrees in a post 1992 UK university


International student retention is an increasing issue across the UK and English speaking higher education sectors. This article focuses on research at one English post-1992 university, where withdrawal rates of first year international students has become a concern. This study comprising a mixed methods approach explored first year international student experiences and identified factors that influence student persistence or proposed withdrawal from degree courses. The research incorporated two stages of in-depth interviews with first year international students studying business subjects, followed by a university wide survey. In this article the term international students refers to undergraduates within and outside the EU. The aim was to better understand the complexities of first year international students’ experiences, and make recommendations to enhance their support and engagement. The findings suggest that stress induced by difficulties of studying in English, combined with: adjustment to UK higher education expectations; experiences of learning, teaching, assessment; working relationships; and emotional and academic support can influence international students’ decisions to withdraw. Moreover, key periods in the academic year are a significant factor.
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