P36 – “Bridging the gap” Investigating the transition between secondary vocational education and higher education, to find grounds for decreasing dropout rates in first year of higher education.

Auditorium – TUESDAY 16:15-17:15

Marije Nije Bijvank
Rozan Nijland

Study Success Centre, Saxion
University of Applied Sciences
The Netherlands

Marije Nije Bijvank is a senior researcher and policy advisor on study success at Saxion University of Applied Sciences. Her research interests include the effects of policy measures and student determinants on students’ first year study progress. Rozan Nijland is a junior researcher with a specific focus on the transition between secondary and higher education.


This study investigates the transition between secondary vocational education and higher education. In questionnaires, interviews and focus-groups, students and teachers were asked how they experience the match between previous and current education, and more specifically what challenges students face during the first year of higher education, related to (risks for) dropout.


In the debate on study success in the Netherlands one of the main concerns is dropout rates in the first year of higher education. For students with a Secondary Vocational Educational (SVE) background this first year dropout rate is even higher than for students with a higher secondary or pre-university education. More specifically, the dropout rate for these students at Saxion is currently about 30%. A research was conducted to gain insight in the transition from SVE to higher education as experienced by first year students and teachers, to find solutions to reduce dropout rates. The central research question is: Which factors relating to the transition from SVE to higher education influence first year study success?

Literature exploration has led to the inclusion of factors that possibly influence study success in higher education: the level of experienced match between previous and current education, (2) a conscious study choice process, (3) the level of realized expectations and (4) the level of motivation. To answer the research question different data-collection methods and –sources were used;
– semi-structured questionnaires among first year students with SVE (N=531)
– first year dropout (related to questionnaire data)
– a subset of data from the National Student Survey (NSS, N=2870)
– two interviews with experts and focus-groups with teachers (N=12)

Results of logistic regression show that students with lower scores on these four factors have a significantly higher risk to dropout, compared to students with higher scores (p<.01). Respondents’ own comments on the match between their previous and current study show that they mainly experience difficulties with ‘skills needed to study successfully in higher education’, such as self-regulation and analytical thinking. To improve the match between both educational environments students suggest that they should learn more about (the differences in) the ways of learning and skills for studying. Results of focus-groups and interviews show that teachers also see a lack of these skills in their students, for example the ability to regulate ones’ own study behaviour. They further state that this is probably the main risk for dropout during the first year of their study. Furthermore, results of the NNS show that first year students with an SVE background are significantly less satisfied about the extent to which the level of learning independently and academic writing matches with their previous education, compared to students with a higher secondary degree (p< .01).

In sum, quantitative and qualitative results from students and teachers show that students with a previous degree in SVE experience a lack of and/or deficiency in skills that are necessary to be able to learn and study in higher education. It might be effective to develop a programme specifically focused on training students more continuously in so called ‘higher education skills’ they need to succeed in their new educational environment. This should be done in close cooperation with institutions of students’ previous education, and could be implemented in the last year of SVE education and the first year of higher education.

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