Student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.
The Glossary of Education Reform

Understanding student experience
While enrolment numbers for undergraduate degrees have been steadily increasing since the early 1990’s in New Zealand, data from the Ministry of Education show that completion rates are relatively low. In fact, studies show that about one-third of students who begin tertiary study will not complete it, even many years later.1

If it’s safe to assume that the rate of student retention is an indicator of the quality of a tertiary institution and the extent to which it is meeting student needs, then vastly more needs to be done to improve. There is a strong need to understand not only students’ attrition and completion rates but also the way in which students are learning and engaging in their study – aspects of students’ experience at university that are intrinsic to their success.

By gaining a stronger understanding of the student journey, what works and what doesn’t, what factors improve the likelihood of completion and having an early warning system for those who are considering dropping out, more can be done to lift attrition rates at tertiary institutions.
Having a range of tools to work with could be extremely valuable for tertiary institutions.

Understanding student readiness to study – student readiness barometer
Student readiness research works to identify the most at-risk groups or segments, allowing you to design useful strategies and services to tackle issues (for example, we tend to find that factors such as students work status, prior tertiary study, family commitments, or having good access to ITC equipment, can greatly affect student success).

Further, by combining student readiness results with application withdrawals or exit survey we can uncover key risk factors and help predict those who are more likely to drop out, who needs assistance, and how to help.

Four important features of the Student readiness barometer

Automatic feedback – Customised feedback provided to students as they fill out the survey – depending on how a student answers the survey questions, links to relevant information and resources are offered in a user-friendly manner

Predicting drop out – Good predictor of drop-out/non- completion rates. Especially when combined with other data such as exit survey data. Plus, in-depth analysis can be conducted on students that scored poorly on the items that indicate they are more likely to drop out.

Risk profile – an immediate risk profile of students can be provided to appropriate teams and service groups. Further, if any segmentation research underway, a customised Student Readiness Barometer can be implemented to specifically target segments that do not have a strong idea of what they want to study. Meaning a tertiary organisation can proactively work with ‘high-risk’ segments

Follow up process – Real-time results will reveal those who scored below the readiness threshold, so they can be contacted by appropriate teams or service groups for further assistance.

Ongoing student experience measurement – an improvement tool
Designed to drive continuous improvement across an organisation, an ongoing student experience programme is vital to measure and manage student experience, helping tertiary organisations improve the extent to which they are meeting students’ needs.

By having direct access to feedback from thousands of students over time, you’ll gain key insight into how to improve the student experience by taking a number of small steps and having a clear understanding of improvement opportunities. In addition, a student experience measure that includes an early warning system will let you know when students are considering non- completion of tertiary studies providing the opportunity to step in and provide support. The result is student led insight into where to focus resources for the best possible outcomes and greater student engagement and retention.

Benefits to tertiary institutions from a student experience measurement programme

  •  Reduces student churn rates by focusing strongly on student needs
  •  Acts as an early warning system, allowing student support teams to take immediate action when a student identifies an issue, or indicates they’re considering dropping out
  •  Embeds the practice of continuous improvement across the whole organisation, where frontline support teams are taking small, timely steps in response to feedback, while management work on larger strategic issues
  •  Helps institutions move from reactive to proactive and to understand and anticipate the needs of students and improve services over time
  •  Provides a clear way for a tertiary organisation to know what its improvement opportunities are and to have a clear way of getting there
  • Helps get rid of silos and provides a consistent approach that drives improvement across the organisation
  •  Provides an ongoing real-time gauge of student satisfaction in parallel with an ongoing continuous improvement programme
  •  Efficiencies are gained due to reduced cost in servicing students better and reducing churn


What do students think?

  • Appreciate the opportunity to give feedback on issues directly, especially if they are struggling
  • It’s a positive experience – particularly if the survey is a short snappy, enjoyable experience
  • Promotes good feeling, tertiary organisations are seen as effective, student focused and responsive – particularly if the feedback is being used to further enhance service delivery and to ensure a process of continuous improvement
  • Inspires a greater sense of engagement and advocacy


Benefits for staff

  • Generates positive morale as academic staff hear good news stories and support staff have the tools to act quickly when needed – most feedback tends to be positive and can be used to celebrate good performance
  • Staff feel empowered, particularly when programmes are run as part of an organisation wide improvement programme.


  1. Ministry of Education, 2010