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Strong student-lecturer relationships reduce university drop out in Australia and Japan

New research into students’ university experience reveals that both Australian and Japanese students are more likely to complete their university degree if they have strong relationships with lecturers, as Daniel Edwards explains.

Research undertaken jointly by ACER and the Kawaijuku Group on students’ university experience in Australia and Japan has found that both Australian and Japanese university students are less likely to consider dropping out of university if they have strong relationships with teaching staff who are helpful and approachable.

The research, reported in the latest ACER Joining the Dots research briefing, used a common survey to develop benchmarks across universities in different countries. The survey is based on the University Experience Survey developed by ACER for the Australian Government in 2011 and focuses on aspects of students’ experience that are measurable, and link to learning and development outcomes.

Analysis of survey results reveals substantial differences between Australian and Japanese student responses. Australian university students, for example, express substantially greater satisfaction with the levels of skills development, learner engagement, teaching quality, student support and learning resources they experience.

While previous studies have shown a link between lower levels of engagement and stronger intentions for early departure, Japanese students remain much less likely to consider leaving university early than their Australian counterparts.

Japanese students’ apparent lower level of engagement may, however, simply be the result of cross-cultural differences in survey response patterns.

Various research studies of cross-cultural differences have found that Japanese survey respondents typically select neutral or slightly negative responses on a four- or five-point scale.

Bearing in mind such cross-cultural differences, Australian students appear to be more positive and Japanese students less positive about their experience of:

  • teaching and learning approaches that enable them to develop critical and analytical thinking skills
  • assessment tasks that challenge them to learn, and
  • support from the university to settle into study.

The joint ACER and Kawaijuku Group research, which attracted participation from 19 universities and 7000 students in Japan, indicates there is significant potential for the use of a common survey instrument across countries to better understand the factors that engage students, improve learning and increase completions.

ACER and the Kawaijuku Group are undertaking a larger and more representative Japanese study in 2016-17. This expanded study will help develop a stronger basis for further analysis and benchmarking and will enable us to draw more generalisable conclusions and develop a more comprehensive international perspective on the student experience.

Understanding Australian and Japanese students’ university experience and how this intersects with their achievement gives us another tool for better understanding the factors that most strongly affect student outcomes. ■

Further information:

Joining the Dots is a resource developed by ACER for those with an interest in Australian higher education. Details available at www.acer.edu.au/jtd or by emailing highereducation@acer.edu.au

RD

About the author

Dr Daniel Edwards is the Research Director of ACER's Tertiary Education research program. 

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View selected works of Daniel Edwards

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