A wrong choice of programme, being weak in a subject, lack of social support … these are some of the issues behind student drop-outs. Eman Goma looks at the steps four universities have taken against it

The American University in Dubai
Academic excellence is enhanced when students have access to strong support mechanisms, said Dania Bazzy, the director of external affairs at the American University in Dubai (AUD).

She added that the university closely monitors the performance of students. Active involvement in university life also leads to a heightened sense of belonging and commitment.

AUD has adopted several procedures to avoid students from dropping out of their programmes. Bazzy divided these into three categories; academic supervision, surveys/forums and AUD activity programmes.

Academic supervision

This is through academic advisers, the early alert form, midterm reports, academic counselling and student support workshops.

Academic advisers are assigned to students from the day they join the university to help them choose their courses, said Bazzy.

The early alert form helps to identify students with academic difficulties. Instructors fill the form and send it to the Student Services office, which gets in touch with these students to determine the reasons for their academic difficulty.

The midterm reports identify students with averages below C, said Bazzy.

Another facility that AUD offers is the academic counselling which is done by the student support manager, who follows up on students identified in the early alert forms or those who require academic counselling and assistance.

There are also student support workshops to help students improve their academic skills.

Surveys and forums

This allows the university to identify student needs and potential problems, said Bazzy. It includes student forums, student exit surveys, alumni surveys and the registrar's drop survey, she said.

Student forums are open to all the students and provides them a platform to voice their concerns and propose solutions. The president, vice-president, provost and the dean of Student Services attend these meetings.

The idea behind the surveys, said Bazzy, was to focus on issues such as why a student leaves AUD, a student's experiences at the university.

AUD activity programmes

These include the ambassador programme, orientation leaders programme, resident assistants, award ceremonies, the Who's Who directory and the student government association, said Bazzy.

These programmes help to increase students' participation in various fields and bring the university's community closer together.

According to Bazzy, if a student is actively involved in university life and is constantly motivated and challenged then the chances of failure are greatly reduced.

University of Wollongong in Dubai
Besides academic advisers and extracurricular activities, UOWD provides a series of learning support measures through the Project for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (PELT).

Lois Smith, the PELT coordinator, said these include workshops on study skills areas, individual tutorials and drop-in sessions.

A fully-equipped student lounge and games room is also available for students to socialise and relax so that they see university as more than just a place to study, said Smith.

She added that full-time student counsellors are also available to help and support students with any problems. This is particularly targeted at students who are living away from their families for the first time.

The university also celebrates the cultural diversity of the student body through student activities and associations.

The American College of Dubai
Inadequate performance is one of the main reasons for student dro-outs, said Dr Poonam Singh, head of media relations at the American College of Dubai. This could be because of a lack of motivation.

At ACD the issue is tackled through midterm assessment reports, mandatory attendance, and increased student-teacher contact hours. These measures, said Singh, help students cope better.

She added that instructors also post their lectures online to allow students to come prepared for the classroom lectures. Workshops are also conducted by high-achieving students in which they tutor others, who are academically weaker.

University of Sharjah
Dr Nabil Kallas, dean of the college of engineering at the University of Sharjah, said many factors affect a student's academic performance and determination to continue with a programme of study.

These include social pressure, lack of readiness, university academic support, student societies/clubs and college meetings/events.

Talking from his experience at the college of engineering, he said that some of his students were forced into taking the major out of social and parental pressure. Kallas argued that such students could fail or drop out because their hearts were not in it.

Weak in some subjects
Then there are students who might be weak in science and mathematics, subjects which are at the heart of an engineering programme.

Kallas said the university has pre-calculus and pre-physics courses for students who want to major in engineering but have failed the readiness exam by the university at the beginning of a semester.

Speaking about the university academic support system, Kallas said academic advisers are assigned to students, when they enter university.

Yet many did not seek their advisers for consultation prior to taking a major decision such as dropping out of a course or dropping a semester.
He advised students to schedule meetings with their advisors at least twice a semester.

Such sessions can address a student's learning difficulties in some areas, help them concentrate in others, help them with career options and preparations.

Clubs and societies
Kallas emphasised the importance of student societies and clubs in developing leadership and social skills. He explained that the college of engineering at UOS supports four societies/clubs that cover all engineering disciplines offered.

These societies are provided with a faculty mentor, office and PC for their activities, and funds to carry out social events and competitions.

Kallas said college meetings and university events are vital in enhancing students' social lives. Graduation parties, college seminars and talks by guest speakers were some of the events organised by the college.

The university also hosts cultural and sports programmes and competitions throughout the year.

The writer is a student of mass communications at the American University of Sharjah