At least 44 per cent of students in Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) take longer than the normal study period to complete their higher education program – and nine per cent drop out, according to a study.
Concerned over the unsatisfactory performance of the students, a team of eight researchers at SQU are trying to identify the factors affecting students’ success and ways to enhance university readiness amongst future college entrants.
Started in the year 2011, this study titled 'Measuring against expectations: Development of a multidimensional profile of University readiness' is being funded by His Majesty’s Annual Research Trust Fund. SQU has been ranked among the top 500 universities in the world where nearly 3,000 students are enrolled every year.
Talking to Muscat Daily, Dr Otherine Neisler, research consultant with the College of Education at SQU and one of the investigators of this study, said, “The best students with high secondary school scores are enrolled in this university. Therefore, it is expected that they all should be able to think critically, have good problem-solving skills, good study skills and good learning strategies, and be able to communicate with professors. However, the university has witnessed that often their academic performance fails to meet our expectations as they progress towards degree completion. There are drop-outs and some are on probation.
“So doing well in secondary school does not mean that students will succeed in university studies. Other personal factors might effect the academic success in the university.
"That is why our study aims at identifying motivational orientations, study strategies, critical thinking skills and college readiness of the incoming students to SQU. The study will investigate the performance of the students in the foundation program placement tests compared to their diploma scores in English, math and computer skills.”
As part of the study, researchers are testing all students who were or will be accepted in the fall of 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Dr Neisler added, “Also, the study will attempt to find the best predictors of student university success as reflected by SQU grades and grade point average in the second and third year. The study will also explore differences in the performance of basic education graduates and general
education graduates in terms of their motivational orientations, study strategies, critical thinking skills, college readiness, and performance on the foundation program placement tests.”
Citing an example, Dr Hussain al Kharusi, assistant dean for under graduate studies and another participant of this study, said, “We tested students during 2011 and 2012. We are comparing their abilities in relation to critical thinking to samples from across the world and to better understand how SQU students perform.
“The ability to think critically has direct relevance to students’ academic success in the university. It enables students to compete in the global economy and with skilled workforce. As such, this study might give some insights as what instructional programs are needed in order to develop the critical thinking skills of students.”
Dr Kharusi said that the underlying problems identified by the current study were poor performance of students entering foundation programme placement tests, high dropout rate from the university, high probation rate and extended years to graduation. For example, only 14 per cent of incoming students in 2011 were successful in English language test, he said.
Dr Neisler said, “You will be surprised to learn that the dropout rate of SQU is much less than in many US universities. But here, the administration is committed to ensuring that all students have the best possible chance for success."
Others involved in this study include Dr Thuwayba al Barwani, dean of College of Education, (the principal investigator) Dr Hammad al Yahmadi, Dr Muna al Kalbani, Dr Humaira al Sulaimani, Dr David Clayton and Dr Mohammad Khan.
Dr Neisler said, “A goal of a recently presented paper was to share the research protocol with other Omani higher education institutions that would benefit from a replication of this study. It would help ensure that the future Omani workforce is ready to perform as expected to meet the country’s strategic social and economic goals.”