We know very little about students who transfer between courses and providers

New data suggests we are a long way off the responsive and student-led system that ministers dream of.

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

So what feels like several million years ago, the newly founded Office for Students was charged with examining and improving the experience of students who transfer to another provider and/or course of study.

It was, indeed, almost a requirement of registration that providers publish details of their arrangements for student transfer with credit. A legacy of Jo Johnson’s interest in the topic, section 38 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 insists that the OfS monitors the availability and utilisation of credit transfer schemes, and provide an annual report. Today’s publication represents only the second such annual report, and this tardiness suggests that the issue is no longer a government or regulatory priority. The same DfE bonfire of bureaucracy that attempted to cancel the national student survey made it clear that no further regulatory action would be taken on credit transfer.

Today’s data release highlights that the issues identified by Jo Johnson, and identified in countless studies and reports from expert bodies, still exist. Given the modular, flexible, focus of the lifelong loan entitlement you could be forgiven for surmising that action in this area is urgent as well as long overdue.

By the OfS’ reckoning a big part of the issue is the availability of data. Credit transfer can only be identified where students proceed direct into the second year of a new course – and it’s only really possible to look at full time, first degree courses in universities and similar providers. We know that within this frame that 4.4 per cent of 2018-19 entrants restarted their course, up from 4.1 per cent in 2017-18.

The data gets interesting when we look at student characteristics splits (we don’t get splits by the subject area students are transferring from or to, alas). It’s unrepresented groups (students from deprived areas, Black students, disabled students, students with care experience, students with BTECs) that are more likely to restart their course at their original provider. The story is similar for students who transfer to a different provider without credit.

Women, mature students, and local (commuter) students are also more like to restart their original course. Conversely, the students more likely to transfer with credit to a new provider tended to be from more advantaged group.

I’ve built a dashboard to support you in exploring the data – charts on intra-provider transfers are at the top, and charts of inter-provider transfers are at the bottom, and you can use the filters at the very top to select an academic year or characteristic group of interest.

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It feels to me like there are two phenomena here – and I’d query how helpful it is to conflate resitting your first year with transferring out to to year two at another provider with full credits. There’s a dearth of usuable data and research on credit transfer, and if we are seriously expecting future students to take a lifelong, multi-provider, approach to gaining academic credit we need urgently to understand what is going on hear in more detail – and to make it much easier for students to transfer. Work, in other words, that was meant to have started years ago.


2 responses to “We know very little about students who transfer between courses and providers

  1. Worth noting that there were new fields added to the HESA return in 20/21 to capture those students admitted with credit that was not recognised as a formal qualification. Mind you, given that the guidance on the field was changed very late then how reliable the data will be may be questionable

  2. I agree that conflating two very different groups – students who fail/withdraw and restart, and students who pass and transfer – is not helpful (and it isn’t wholly surprising that the former are more likely to be from underrepresented and disadvantaged groups).

    Previous iterations of the govt wanted the second of these to really be a thing, but it isn’t, at least not for the 18-year-old-away-from-home-as-rite-of-passage model of HE. The LLE at least acknowledges that in principle, even if it will still be interesting to see whether it can really address it (ideally in a way which doesn’t create a stratified, two-toer HE system).

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