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Education

Minorities drop out of university

Statistics show that students from minority backgrounds quit their university more than their ’Danish’ classmates. A new report asks why

Twice as many ethnic minority students drop out of university as students who are ethnically Danish, according to the Danish Ministry of Integration. Now a new report from the Institute of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen pinpoints why ethnic minority students drop out and what can be done about it.

»At first glance, the reasons for withdrawal given by students of ethnic background are not much different from the students of Danish background. However, when you dig a little deeper, differences begin to appear«, says Professor Jens Hoff, who co-authored the report with Memed Demirtas.

Finding inner motivation

A student is 2.6 times more likely to drop out if he or she lives at home than if he or she has moved out of the house. This has an adverse effect on drop out figures for minority students.

»Many ethnic minority students come from big families living under crowded conditions, where you might have a three room apartment shared by six or seven people. To concentrate on schoolwork you need a quiet environment conducive to studying. The living situation has a large influence on ethnic minority students’ study behaviour«, explains Memed Demirtas.

»These are circumstances not unlike those of Danish students with working class backgrounds. The same forces are at play as in families without a tradition for higher education«, says Jens Hoff.
Another factor that plays into the decision to drop out is what the authors call ‘inner motivation’.

»Inner motivation is calculated by how satisfied a student is with his or her own completion of assignments, involvement in classes and exam grades received. It’s this, and not social or academic relationships that determine whether or not a student drops out«, explains Jens Hoff.

Sensitive subject

In the case of ethnic minorities there is an additional factor: Discrimination.

»Sixteen percent of students cite discrimination as one of the reasons for dropping out«, says Jens Hoff.
Studying students from an ethnic minority background is not an easy task. The authors met negative reactions from offended students after the distribution of the questionnaires.

»We have had angry students calling us up, who were outraged at being stigmatized. They considered themselves first and foremost students and refused to be categorized as anything else«, Jens Hoff relates.

Get students involved

However, despite these reactions, the authors were able to complete the study and outline different steps universities can take to solve the problem.

»Informing students properly prior to enrolment is extremely important, and not just for students with an ethnic minority background, but for Danish students too. If students are well informed about the programme structure and requirements, and the university environment itself, there is less risk of them dropping out. They are better prepared to tackle the challenges of higher education«, says Jens Hoff.

»Universities should also make an effort to integrate ethnic minority students into study and work groups, and make sure that they get involved«, he says.

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