What factors influence the retention and progression of Foundation Year Students within Higher Education in Wales?

Researching Education Studies: critical issues

The main aim and purpose of this paper is to provide an overview and rationale for conducting my research, designed to conduct a critical analysis of key factors that contribute to the retention, and progression of students attending Foundation Year provision.

Within Wales the number of Foundation Year students within Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s) appears to be increasing, utilised as a key aspect of their widening access strategies (HEFCW, 2016). However, parallel to the expansion of this provision, concerns are being raised in relation to retention and progression, associated costs and progressively increasing numbers (Welsh Government 2016). Provision has grown in Welsh HEI’s from 400 students in 2011/12 to 800 students in 2013/14 to 1,051 students registered by Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) as Year Zero students (Foundation Year) in 2014/15 (WG, 2013, WG, 2016, pp3-4 and HESA, 2016, p.2).

Issues emerging from an analysis of policy and practice contributes to the development of an overarching question:

What factors influence the retention and progression of Foundation Year Students within HE in Wales? In addition to this, other subsidiary research questions have emerged:

  1. In what ways does social class influence the development of Foundation Students’ social and cultural capital? To what extent, if at all, does background shape the educational trajectory of students’ Foundation Year?
  2. What issues and concerns do students bring to their Foundation Year of study?
  3. What are the enablers and barriers to Foundation year students’ retention and progression?
  4. What actions can Welsh Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) take to increase the retention and progression of Foundation Year students?

The focus is on Foundation year provision within a single HEI, as a single case study, an embedded design with a number of different units of analysis (Gray, 2018, Yin 2014). The geographical location for this study is a post 92 university, situated within a semi-urban setting in Wales. The selected design is a case study, as epistemologically, it aligns with an interpretivist approach situated within a phenomenological paradigm.

The paper will provide an overview of the study, that comprise s of a single case, which focuses upon one HEI, with an embedded case study design, with three subunits of analysis (which consist of three Foundation Years, situated within three different Faculties). It will include details of the proposed research strategy, selected methodology and proposed research methods.