Student retention: the role of formal induction and communication in retention of postgraduate distance learning students

Sarah Jones, Centre for Financial and Management Studies, School of Oriental and Asian Studies

Research team:

Christine Berry, School of Oriental and African Studies
Jon Gregson, Institute of Development Studies
Paul Smith, Consultant

TRA3 S Jones (Final Report) [pdf, 308kb]

TRA3 S Jones (Final Report Appendix) [pdf, 1.26mb]



The major achievements of the full research project [appendix one] were:

  • the production of a set of recommendations for actions which will enhance the student experience in the short term, and will provide the framework for a more detailed communications and induction plan in the medium/long term;
  • gaining greater understanding of the critical role of communication in retaining and supporting students.  This is empowering for administrative staff as our findings suggest that  they play an important part in a student’s successful completion of the programme;
  • the impetus to develop specific targeted activities/procedures to support distance learning postgraduate students, an area often neglected. The very clear link between communication and successful completion should provide further justification for the investment of staff time and resources in the future;
  • gaining greater insight into methods which can be used to provide a sense of human contact and care during the process of study – particularly when students are geographically isolated.


The project was interesting in that it dealt with retention for distance learning students (often neglected in the research which tends to focus primarily on retention on-campus). However, what made it innovative and challenging was its focus on retaining highly-educated, career-oriented, mature learners rather than undergraduates involved in open access distance education. With the growth in postgraduates at the University of London (with School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) now having recently doubled its numbers with the addition of programmes offered  through Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)), the findings and future developments will help us address the needs of this specific group to ensure success.

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