We must be doing something right. The figures reported today show that St Andrews has fewer students dropping out in their first year than any other university in Scotland. In fact, we’re some of the clingiest bright young minds in the UK: Cambridge, Oxford and Buckingham are the only universities better at retaining their recruits.
Students drop out of university for many reasons, all of them valid. Sometimes it’s the pressure; university life is intensive, and trying to balance the stress of academic work and the time demands of extra-curricular activities on top of a social life can overwhelm even the most organised people. It takes adapting to, and first-year students don’t always get the knack in time.
Others, sadly, may cope with the work but feel that they don’t fit in – for whatever reason. And then for some, university simply isn’t the right choice; better to pick a different course or get on with finding a job, perhaps.
In St Andrews, we can be proud that our community is dealing with these issues. In the first instance, the University’s tough academic entry requirements help ensure that students who win places will be able to cope with the workload. Beyond that, the ability to sample other subjects during the first year and easily change degree intentions helps prevent students leaving because they chose the wrong course.
We are also made to feel like we belong right from our first days in town. St Andrews’ remote location means few students are isolated by living at home and commuting. Instead nearly all freshers move into halls of residence, where the committees and wardens do excellent work to make them feel welcomed and involved.
As the semesters stretch on, the academic family system knits freshers ever-tighter into the community, matching them up not only with older students who can act as mentors but also siblings from different social groups that they otherwise may not meet. And that’s not to mention the close groups that form around societies or the work of the Students’ Association.
The University and the town of St Andrews are by no means perfect, as this newspaper often points out, and there is work to be done in many areas. But at least we will all be here to work on it together.