Student non-attendance in higher education
A phenomenon of student apathy or poor pedagogy?
(non-) attendance on performance
A number of studies have been undertaken in an attempt to investigate
whether there is a direct relationship between attendance and academic
performance. Such studies have yielded mixed results. Gatherer and
Manning (1998) undertook a correlational study to investigate the
relationship between lecture attendance and examination performance
on a first-year biological sciences programme. This was a reasonably
rigorous study, comprising a sample size of 152 students and utilising
appropriate statistical analysis for the nature of the data in terms
of levels of measurement attained and the distributions of the variables.
The findings of this study reveal that there is a weak but statistically
significant positive correlation between lecture attendance and
examination performance. It is interesting to note that this correlation
was more pronounced in the ethnic minority groups in the sample.
This is particularly relevant and useful information given the increasing
diversity of the student body. In a study undertaken by Sharma et
al. (2005) the relationship between student-centred tutorials and
examination performance on a physics programme was investigated.
Not only did this study demonstrate that students with greater attendance
performed better in their examinations, it also established that
students working together in the same group with consistent attendance
attain higher examination results than those who do not. Moreover,
the results of this study not only advocate the importance of attendance
but also that of the role of groupwork in facilitating student learning.
Cohen and Johnson (2006) examine the relationship between class
attendance and examination performance in a sample of 347 economics
class. Their findings demonstrate a strong positive correlation
between class attendance and academic performance. A study by McCarey
et al. (2006) explores the predictors of academic performance in
a cohort of nursing students. One of the variables that was under
investigation as a predictor was non-attendance. Data were obtained
from 154 students in this study and appropriate statistical tests
were performed on the data. Results demonstrated that attendance
was a significant predictor of performance with increasing non-attendance
being consistently associated with poorer marks. This study also
yielded a number of findings that are invaluable in terms of facilitating
individual student learning and the endeavours one could undertake
to support students. For example, students aged 26 and over tended
to perform better than those under 26 years of age. While this was
not statistically significant, it would be worthwhile considering
in terms of the need for different levels and types of support for
younger versus more mature students. Students who performed poorly
in their first year continued to do so throughout the programme.
It is interesting that it was these students who had higher rates
of non-attendance. In light of this, educators could use both poor
performance in first year and poor attendance as predictors for
poor academic performance overall on a programme and could target
such students early on in the programme. By addressing any difficulties
they may have early on one could provide relevant and meaningful
support to enable these students to improve.
On the other hand, contrasting studies have been undertaken that
demonstrate no relationship between attendance and academic performance.
Rodgers (2002) implemented an incentive scheme in an undergraduate
introductory statistics module. In practice, each student’s
overall mark was reduced by 1 per cent for every tutorial missed
in excess of two. The students’ attendance and performance
were compared with the performance of students who had undertaken
the same module in the previous academic year, prior to the introduction
of the incentive scheme. The results of this study indicate that
while attendance did improve, improved attendance did not translate
to improved academic performance, even when the ‘penalty points’
that had been deducted for non-attendance were added back on to
the students’ overall marks. Grabe (2005) examines the relationship
between students’ use of online notes as a substitute for
attending class and examination performance on an introductory psychology
module. The data conveyed that approximately 30 per cent of students
who frequently used notes claimed to have done so as a replacement
for at least six classes. In comparison, amongst students who used
online notes as an adjunct rather than as an alternative to class
attendance, no difference in examination performance was seen. Such
information is very useful to educators when deciding whether and
how to provide online notes to students.