Higher education institutions should pay more attention to first-year students

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Bratislava,24/9/2021 – This week, the academic year began at most higher education institutions in Slovakia. It is their first year of university study for more than 30,000 students. The Academic Quarter survey of the Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education shows that most first-year students need support in adapting to higher education, but this is systematically provided to only a part of them. This may also be related to the fact that almost a third of first-year students do not even complete the first year of study. In addition, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and related measures make it difficult to adapt first-year students with the potential risk of dropping out of school.

For students starting to study at university, higher education is a big life change. “At the lower levels, students are used to the prescribed curriculum and continuous examination. At the university, they are expected to be more independent both in the study itself and in its organization (e.g. selection of subjects, scheduling, obtaining accommodation or financial support or support for students with special needs), ” says Renáta Hall, coordinator of the analytical team of SAAVS. According to data from the Ministry of Education in recent years, approximately one-third of graduates of bachelor study (and joint study) have left school prematurely, either at their discretion or due to lack of benefit. [1] From the analysis It makes sense, it follows that, unlike abroad, a large part of them will not return to school. [2] As a country, we are losing the potential of a large group of young people, some of whom, with sufficient support, could manage higher education.

Systematic support from the university could help students to manage the transition more successfully. In the Academic Quarter survey, only a small proportion of students indicated that they did not need support (17%). Those who were interested in support met it earlier at the individual level. Classmates or friends (75%) helped them the most to get used to university. Almost every third first-year student at the university was helped by the individual approach of the teachers. Only a small proportion of respondents encountered the necessary systematic support, in the form of assistance from the study department (18%), an introductory orientation week (15%), assistance from a teacher mentor (5%), or a study advisor (3%).

In addition, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and related measures make it more difficult for first-year students to adapt, as the possibility of student relationships is reduced. Only 44% of last year’s freshmen said they spend time with their classmates out of school. As a result, they lagged significantly behind their classmates, of which up to 60% spent time outside of class together. According to Matej Bílik, an analyst at SAAVS, “the data show that the pandemic has made the adaptation process of last year’s freshmen more difficult compared to students who have been full-time in the past.” This could also reduce their success and further increase the drop-out of students. “We will find out whether this happened only after the publication of data for the past year,” adds Matej Bílik.

The data also reveals specific areas where universities could improve. The first is to supplement the knowledge that first-year students of the university did not acquire in secondary school, but lack it in secondary school. Every fifth first-year student (23%) felt that the institution did not help him/her complete the missing knowledge from secondary school. Another problem is that only about a third of first-year students (35%) have a person at school who helps them to progress in their studies in terms of choosing subjects or advice on how to get the missing credits and how to supplement the necessary knowledge. According to Peter Maňo, an analyst at SAAVS, “both of these facts can make it difficult for students to achieve the necessary benefits to master the first year.”

“Systematic support for first-year university students, especially students with special needs, from the university is part of the new accreditation standards. We simply demand that the universities systematically take care of their students. And we will ask about this when accrediting their internal quality system, “ says Robert Redhammer, Chair of the Executive Board of the Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education. At the same time, he adds that “quality student support is not free and it is necessary for the state to provide sufficient resources for it, for example from the structural funds.”

About the Student satisfaction survey – Academic Quarter

Academic Quarter is the largest survey of student’s views on higher education in Slovakia. The survey is intended for the first and second degree of higher education and covers all study fields in Slovakia. Data collection took place from April 30 to May 31, 2021. It was attended by almost 20,000 students (19,983). Among the respondents were 4998 freshmen who started their studies at the first (bachelor’s) level or combined studies in the academic year 2020/21. During the first year, they probably did not leave school prematurely because they completed the questionnaire at the end of the last academic year. However, their answers to this topic are an indication of possible reasons for early school leaving.

About the Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education

The Slovak Accreditation Agency for Higher Education (SAAVS) is an independent public institution that evaluates the quality of education and the effectiveness of its assurance by higher education institutions themselves. It awards accreditation of higher education to achieve to provide education and supports the development of quality education.

Contact for media:

Renáta Hall, renata.hall@saavs.sk, telephone number: 0948 988 267

[1] Výročná správa o stave vysokého školstva za rok 2017, 2018, 2019. Dostupné na: https://www.minedu.sk/vyrocne-spravy-o-stave-vysokeho-skolstva/

[2] VANČÍKOVÁ, K. Predčasné ukončenie VŠ štúdia. In HALL, R., DRÁĽ, P., FRIDRICHOVÁ, P., HAPALOVÁ, M., LUKÁČ, S., MIŠKOLCI, J., VANČÍKOVÁ, K. Analýza zistení o stave školstva na Slovensku: To dá rozum. Bratislava : MESA 10, 2019. Dostupné na: https://analyza.todarozum.sk/docs/432871002mr0a/