The next five sections summarise how the research on student retention addresses some fundamental empirical questions: who leaves; from which institutions; when do they leave; why do they leave; and where do they go? The next section of the review of research literature gives a summary of the characteristics of interventions in other institutions that have aimed to improve student retention. The final section situates UAL within the national context, drawing on institutional and national statistics and a range of qualitative projects that are relevant to student retention. The report concludes with a set of questions for further research.

The methodology adopted for this review is outlined in the Appendix. The policy context Whilst the ‘access movement’ has been active since the 1960s and 1970s and has always encompassed a concern with student progression and achievement, student retention has become a focus for policymakers in the UK since the late 1990s. Tony Blair’s announcement in 1999 that his government intended to see 50% of all 18-30 olds taking part in higher education by 2010 has dominated the policy arena and has always included the desire to increase and retain the participation of non-traditional students.

As an area of policy, widening access, and in particular student retention, is one of the most studied and theorised aspects of higher education. This is reflected in the range and number of reports on the subject that have emerged from several government departments and agencies. Since 2000, the following have been published specifically on student retention: Public Accounts Committee (2008) Staying the Course: The Retention of Students in Higher Education, Tenth Report of session for 2007/8 National Audit Office (2007).