Managing Academic Performance
By Alasdair White
During their academic careers, students go through a series of major changes and entering university is one of the most significant. From primary school through to the end of secondary school, they have been in a ‘protected environment’ under the control of teachers; at home, they will have had parental guidance and support; and within their local community, they will have developed friends and a social life. Going to university changes all this. From being in a controlled predetermined learning environment and living within a supportive social context, the student is suddenly faced with an academic environment that demands much greater independence and personal responsibility, while at the same time having to cope with a radically changed and possibly much less supportive social context. Ill-prepared and ill-equipped to manage the changes facing them, students struggle and it is not surprising, therefore, that universities find themselves faced with a significant ‘dropout rate’ in the first year that, in the UK, averages 22% and ranges up to and in excess of 40%. And the problem is repeated across Europe, North America and Australia.
The author contends that the dropout rate is a symptom of the failure by universities to adequately manage the students’ transition between secondary and tertiary education, and to subsequently manage their academic performance. The author also contends that the current solutions are neither desirable nor effective and most are bound to fail. What is needed is a better understanding of the development phases that all students have to pass through and knowing how to manage their performance in each phase. Solutions are then needed that help university staff to deliver better performance management. To obtain this understanding it is necessary to make use of the tools and ideas that are found in the field of behavioural psychology and, particularly, those that are applied in the field of business where performance management is considered a core competence and a causation factor for competitive advantage.
This paper seeks to take the established behavioural models relating to comfort zones, group and individual development, and managing change, and use them to create a methodology for understanding and managing the academic performance of students in a university environment. It seeks to provide a reliable approach to getting the best out of students that is firmly based on sound behavioural and psychological principles, backed up by observational data and practical field research. It is not, however, a ‘scientific’ paper full of detailed research data, complex theories and high-flown rhetoric, but rather it is a practical guide based on twenty years of consultancy in the field and years of teaching university students in a business school.
Publication: February 2010
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