To stay competitive, companies must maintain and build on the skills they have in their organisations and to do this, many rely on recruiting graduates with the right skillsets. If graduate numbers drop, businesses can find it a challenge to recruit. In Germany, university dropout rates are rising in some fields of study, including engineering where the rate is around 32 per cent. With skilled engineers in high demand, this figure is cause for concern.
What higher education (HE) can do to address dropout rates and ensure student success is the topic of an upcoming event in Berlin on 28 September. Previewing the event, Christian Berthold of HE management consultancy CHE Consult says that a range of factors influence whether or not a student will complete a course. He believes a better understanding of the characteristics of student populations is needed because they have a big influence on dropout rates.
“Today’s student community is hugely diverse,” says Christian. “A traditional ‘one size fits all’ teaching approach – which still dominates in many universities – is less likely to succeed in the face of such heterogeneity.”
Christian highlights four factors that conspire to challenge the success of teaching and learning in HE. “First off, there has been a considerable expansion in the higher education population,” he says. “It has gone up from 1.9 million to 2.8 million students in ten years. This has worsened the professor to student ratio, meaning it is even more difficult for tutors to pay close attention to all students and give them a personal level of tuition.”
A Diverse Student Population
On top of this, more students work and have family commitments, making it difficult for them to attend class as regularly as they need to. “Sixty per cent of students in Germany work,” says Christian. “To make progress in their studies they need flexible learning options so that they can study when and where they’re able to.”
Thirdly, students entering higher education now have a more diverse range of knowledge and capabilities built up in earlier education. They aren’t all at the same level of understanding, so some may need access to supplementary course content to bring them up to speed before they can progress. “In Germany, this is especially the case with maths and writing skills,” Christian points out.
Lastly, more students now have German as a second language – 12.8 per cent in 2017 compared to 11.3 in 2012. These students would benefit from language as well as cultural support.
Adapting Course Delivery
Christian believes that the best way to meet the new needs of today’s student population is through flexible and adaptable learning solutions. Starting to take into account student satisfaction and engagement could also help identify at-risk students and reduce dropout rates.
“Heterogeneity within the student population has to be met with a new way of learning,” he says. “It’s not just about diversity in social background or academic standard either, there are differences also in learning styles and motivation levels. A new approach to course delivery is needed if educational institutions and students are to succeed. It’s about shaping the system to the students, not the other way around, and that means more individuality through adaptive learning.”
Highly adaptive eLearning solutions individualise the learning process, creating learning paths for each student according to their learning style, ability and progress. If students need to brush up on areas where they are less strong, they can access content digitally and work through it a time and place that suits them. Then, class time spent on course curriculum is more effective as students are more likely to be at the same level.
Digital course content that supplements in-class teaching means students can work outside of university and tutors can keep track of student progress, despite larger class sizes. A virtual learning environment (VLE) that measures student learning progress and incorporates predictive analytics can reveal any areas of concern. This means that tutors are able to identify students potentially at risk of dropping out and take early action.
To learn more about digital learning as an opportunity to deal with heterogeneity, CHE Consult and D2L invite you to the free-to-attend event in Berlin on 28 September where the question of how to reduce dropout and ensure student success will be explored in more depth. Registration required.
Heublein, U., Ebert, J., Hutzsch, C., Isleib, S., König, R., Richter, J., & Woisch, A. (2017). Zwischen Studienerwartungen und Studienwirklichkeit, Ursachen des Studienabbruchs, beruflicher Verbleib der Studienabbrecherinnen und Studienabbrecher und Entwicklung der Studienabbruchquote an deutschen Hochschulen. (Forum Hochschule 1|2017). Hannover: DZHW.
Middendorff, E., Apolinarski, B., Poskowky, J., Kandulla, M., & Netz, N. (2013): Die wirtschaftliche und soziale Lage der Studierenden in Deutschland 2012. 20. Sozialerhebung des Deutschen Studentenwerks durchgeführt durch das HIS-Institut für Hochschulforschung.
 Heublein et al. 2017
 Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis)
 See Middendorff et al. 2013
 Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis)