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Title: A framework to support academically 'at risk' students to enhance student success : a Faculty of Health Sciences case study
Authors: Cruickshank, Gillian 
Issue Date: 2018
The aim of this study was to determine the efficacy of the Faculty of Health Sciences’ referral and support system in relation to student preparedness, need and academic progress and to design a transferable framework to support students who are academically at-risk.

Within the context of a case study, an embedded mixed methods research design was used. The qualitative strand consisted of recorded interviews with students who had been through the Faculty’s referral system for academic support. Interviews were transcribed and coded into themes and sub-themes. Activity Theory was utilised as the theoretical framework. The quantitative strand focused on historical cohort data in relation to throughput, success and drop-out rates. The data represented two time periods under study: 2007-2009 (pre-intervention) and 2012-2014 (post/ongoing-intervention). The Mann Whitney U test was used to compare differences between the two student samples. A bivariate correlation analysis of the data was followed by a trend analysis; subsequently the slopes test was used to determine if there was a significant difference in the slopes for pre- and post/ongoing-intervention trend lines.

Various themes and sub-themes emerged indicating that students were underprepared for university-level study. Students expressed that they had difficulty in making the transition from high school to university. At school they learned to remember for replication, whereas the expectation at university was that they would learn for understanding and application. Managing the various time demands in relation to the volume and complexity of their course of study, together with their personal and family life, was a major obstacle. The students expressed that English as the language of learning was problematic when it was not their home-language.

The Faculty of Health Sciences referral system for student academic support was regarded with mixed feelings when they were first referred, however the students acknowledged that on reflection it was what they needed to assist them to overcome their academic difficulties. The participants in this study further articulated that the support they had received kept them from dropping out.

Analysis of the historical student cohort data revealed that the drop-out rate for the FHS is decreasing much quicker than before the support system intervention was implemented. This is significant in that it statistically supports the stated experiences of the participating students that being referred for academic support helped them to remain in their course of study.

Tensions were revealed in the FHS activity system, primarily in relation to what the students (Subject: academically at-risk) were not prepared for at university (Object: articulation gap and transition). Other tensions included those between the referred students and the AD personnel and methods (Community and Tools), as well as amongst the Community members in relation to roles and communication (Division of Labour).

This research study elicited rich data from students indicating that the Faculty of Health Sciences referral support programme was effective in assisting students to make better academic progress. Students articulated that the programme had helped them to remain in the course of study instead of dropping out, and that many of their peers had been similarly assisting. The retention of students reported qualitatively was supported by quantitative data that showed a decrease in the drop-out rate over time that was not by chance.
Submitted in fulfillment of requirements of the Ph.D.: Health Sciences, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa, 2018.
Appears in Collections:Theses and dissertations (Health Sciences)

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