This research briefing offers a snapshot of how Australian students’ engage in their first year of university study. It reviews participation in key learning activities, perceptions of support, correlates of retention, and important educational outcomes. The Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) is the largest cross-institutional survey of first-year students yet conducted in Australia, with 12,356 respondents in 2009 from 30 institutions, representing a population of 93,501. AUSSE results help universities understand the experiences of first-year students, and better grasp the factors linked with retention and success. For universities, getting the early years of study right is particularly essential given that many of the gains in critical thinking, knowledge and academic skills occur in the first two years. AUSSE results show that in comparison with first-year students in the USA (also surveyed in 2009) first years in Australia are less likely to be challenged to learn, are less engaged in actively constructing knowledge, and participate in fewer broadening educational activities. First-year students are more likely to remain at university and continue to subsequent years if they are able to have regular contact with teaching staff and if they feel supported by their university. Yet first-year students in Australia are significantly less likely to have contact with their lecturers and tutors than their counterparts in the USA, and also feel less supported by their universities.
Coates, Hamish 'Getting first-year students engaged', AUSSE Research Briefing, v.6 May 2010