Student Life Events and their Impact on Academic Progress

Annette Cashmore, Professor of Genetics, University of Leicester
Nisha Dogra
Jonathan Hales, Lecturer, University of Leicester
Khalid Karim
Stewart Petersen, Professor of Medical and Social Care Education, University of Leicester
Jon Scott, Director of Biological Studies, University of Leicester


Background: There is very limited evidence on whether student performance is related to the life events they experience. There is also little information on the life events experienced by the student body, and particularly those who fail to make academic progress and cite life events as the reason. Such reports are usually retrospective. It is difficult to propose suitable solutions when the nature of the problems experienced by the student body is undocumented, although anecdotally familiar. We need better data if we are to improve student support.  We also need information on those students who experience life events, but manage these to reduce the potential impact on their studies.

Life events may serve as turning points in one of three ways as described by Rutter. They may:

• Provide or deny an opportunity
• Make a lasting change on the person’s environments
• Change a person’s self concept, beliefs and expectations

The same life events can, however, affect individuals very differently as the impact will depend on various others factors such as individual characteristics, the ways in which they are supported, and their coping strategies.  This study focuses on life events that affect an individual at a personal level, such as family, health or work, rather than broader events such as war or natural disasters, although these may also affect individuals.

The aims of this project are to:

• Identify the numbers and types of life events experienced by first and second year medical and biological sciences students.
• Gain information on the students’ perceptions of the impact of these life events
• Use the findings to support and/or develop appropriate university policy to support students.

Methods: We have designed a study specific questionnaire to collect information on whether students experienced specific life events, and to indicate their perceived impact. Students also have the option to add other life events that we may have failed to consider. The list of life events has been compiled from previous literature and from our own experiences of dealing with students. Linden’s questionnaire was validated for use in Canadian students and although validated for use in the UK, it is not directly transferable to our context. Basic demographic details will also be collected.  The questionnaire will be piloted on students for face validity and timing. After piloting, it will be modified as needed.

Procedure: A member of the project team will brief students about the project and will ask students to complete the questionnaire either at the end or beginning of a lecture. The rationale for using paper questionnaires is that response rates tend to be better than when students are asked to complete them on line or sent electronically. The questionnaire should take no more than 15 minutes to complete and should not impact negatively on their contact teaching time. Students will be given the option to approach the team if there are any questions or issues relating to life events. The team will not necessarily address the issues raised but will guide the student towards appropriate services. In this way we should be able to maximise the information required, although we will miss absent students, some of whom may well be experiencing the life events we are asking about. To address this potential limitation we will advertise the project and arrange for students to complete the questionnaire at another time.

We hope to collect the data at the beginning of the summer term but will need to be flexible, as student timetables may dictate alternative suitable times.

Duration: 2010-2011

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