Commuter students in London: London Higher pilot project findings


London Higher’s pilot project looking at commuter students in London is released this week.  This weeks blog provides a brief summary of the main findings.

In recent years there has been an increase in the numbers of students who stay in their ‘home’ region for higher education study rather than moving away.  For example nearly 50% of all full-time first degree undergraduates at HE institutions (HEIs) in London are from London.  At the same time studies have shown that students living with other students close to campus were more likely to report good value and satisfaction compared with commuter students living with parents or on their own (Neves and Hillman, 2019).

It has been suggested that students in London may express high levels of dissatisfaction which are in part due to living and transport costs. This in turn can lead to potentially higher dropout rates – and thus contribute to the ‘London effect’ and the low rankings for many London HEIs in various sector league tables.

The London Higher pilot project, conducted over the 2018-19 academic year, set out to examine whether travel affected continuation or progression in UK-domiciled full-time first degree undergraduates. In parallel to this workshops were conducted to elicit the views of ‘commuter students’ in their engagement with their studies and their institutions.

Using a standard data analysis framework, travel time was found to be a significant predictor affecting progression or continuation for first year undergraduates at three of the six London participating institutions, after accounting for factors such as subject of study and entry qualifications.  The workshops revealed students viewed commuting as a positive choice and valued a separation between home and study, but also that they may not be engaged in the wider student experience.  A set of practical suggestions have been compiled for institutions to consider based on the discussions with commuter students.

One of the project outcomes is that it has provided resources which could be used by other HE providers with the analysis framework for assessing travel time and other factors affecting continuation, as well as protocols for conducting workshops and focus groups.

The pilot study includes three main recommendations to:

London Higher will now seek to engage with HE stakeholders, including the Department for Education, on the need to assess travel time both for characterising commuter students and in continuation measures.  We also plan to promote the analysis framework among London Higher member HEIs, and initiate a scoping study on commuting issues for HE staff in London which we consider may also impact upon the student experience.  The framework might also prove helpful to HEIs outside of London.

For further details of the reports and other London Higher publications, please visit our Research Reports page.