Framing attrition in higher education: a complex problem

Colin Beer, Celeste Lawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This study situates student attrition within the strategic framework of Australian public universities. It draws on organisational theory to describe higher education within a bureaucratic framework. The study uses a quantitative approach to undertake a content analysis of attrition and retention policy statements from all Australian universities. This reveals that Australian universities, and the higher education sector as a whole, are attempting to address attrition within their existing bureaucracies. Attrition however is a wicked problem that includes many variables outside the influence of universities, which limits the potential of strategic approaches to problem solving. The practical implications of these findings are that current approaches to attrition are likely to fail. The wicked nature of the attrition problem needs to be taken into account when developing strategies or policies within higher education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)497-508
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Further and Higher Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Attrition
  • higher education
  • university policy
  • wicked problem

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