Call for Papers: IJHE Special Issue - ‘Promoting Student Engagement, Retention and Success in Challenging Times’


There has been a long history of concern and interest regarding the fluctuations and significant variations by institutions in Australia, about higher education student attrition and retention, and the factors that influence them.  Research validates that there are many factors that impact upon first year attrition rates (Kahu & Nelson, 2018; McIntosh & Barden, 2019; McMillan, 2005; Schunk & Mullen, 2012; Whannell & Whannell, 2015), and as attrition is highly correlated with the overall nine-year completion rates, it remains a useful leading indicator both of provider and student cohort performance (DET, 2005; Harvey, et. al., 2017).

The literature consistently reports how attending university is stressful for students (Harvey, et. al., 2017; Kahu & Nelson, 2018; McIntosh & Barden, 2019; Stallman, 2010). The most likely factors contributing to student attrition are part-time attendance, age, and academic preparation as measured by their ATAR, and common reasons cited for withdrawal are personal, including physical or mental health issues, financial pressures and other reasons often beyond institutional control (Harvey, et. al., 2017; Kahu & Nelson, 2018; McIntosh & Barden, 2019).  Stallman’s (2010) research reported that 84% of Australian students experienced elevated distress, and 19% described high distress compared to 3% of the general population. This stress can be generated by personal factors, institutional factors, or the intersection between the two. For example, high levels of paid work, additional family responsibilities or living far from campus - all characteristics of non-traditional students - are potential causes of stress, which can influence student success by impeding student engagement (McMillan, 2005).

It is evident that a dominant focus has been on the improvement, refinement and increased accessibility of student supports and resources, as the ‘go to’ strategy by national universities to support their first year or commencing students. There are many current examples of how national tertiary providers aim to help commencing students become accustomed to university life, build academic, social and support networks, and familiarise themselves to services such as the library, and a trove of study skills resources. Common to all of these transition programs is a strong focus on university support resources, and the transitioning student into their chosen field of study. Despite the varied positive impact these programs have on assisting students to orientate and successfully navigate their first year of study, all universities at the national level still experience student attrition to minimal and major degrees.

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 heralded a collective need to deliver quality and meaningful education remotely – at all levels – via an online platform. The impacts of such teaching practice at short notice, has had massive implications for both staff and students in higher education. The challenges that exist pre-COVID still remain however, specifically in relation to staff development, technology infrastructure, teaching and support changes, and student engagement, retention and success.

In response, IJHE is pleased to announce that ‘Promoting Student Engagement, Retention and Success in Challenging Times’ has been chosen as the topic for the 2021 Special Issue, to facilitate academics, educational practitioners, leaders and policy makers to share their innovative responses to encourage student engagement, retention and success during the unprecedented year that was 2020.

This IJHE Special Issue Call for Papers is seeking evidence-based applications of practices in online and remote teaching and learning, including pedagogical and support innovations, specifically focussed to promote student engagement, retention and success during the challenging time of COVID-19. The IJHE Special Issue is interested in submissions that recognise perspective differences, including those from tertiary policy and governance, tertiary educators and staff, and tertiary students.  Instances of how tertiary providers and their staff involved and cooperated with community groups and organisations external to the university, are strongly encouraged.

Aims and Scope

-       Understand the scope and range of tertiary approaches targeting student engagement and satisfaction;

-       Understand the scope and range of tertiary approaches targeting attrition and retention of students;

-       Build an overview of program types that attempt to address support of students from disadvantaged backgrounds or those experiencing hardship in online settings;

-       Examples of innovative learning technologies facilitating online communities of practice to support student engagement and learning;

-       Understand the impact of different pedagogical approaches i.e. traditional vs contemporary, upon student satisfaction, engagement, attrition and retention;

-       Further understand the range of impacting factors on student engagement, retention, satisfaction and attrition within the current global context.

Topics of Interest

Topics of interest for this Special Issue include and are not limited to:

  • Illustrations of teaching and learning practices, promoting successful online and remote teaching and learning;
  • Examples of online approaches resulting in increased student engagement and retention;
  • Strategies used to maintain levels of academic excellence, integrity and quality learning;
  • Examples of innovative learning technologies facilitating online communities of practice to support student engagement and learning;
  • Supports used to empower students from disadvantaged backgrounds or those experiencing hardship in online settings;
  • Discussions of the broader challenges impacting student retention and success in the time of a global pandemic.

Submissions should contain evidence drawn from empirical studies using quantitative and/or qualitative methodologies. Ideally, the submission reporting research/study findings should reflect scope, design and sample sizes large enough for future recommendations to be applied in other contexts.

Submission and Review Process

  • Papers submitted to the special issue will undergo a typical double-blind review process.
  • Submissions to the journal must be made using to the peer review system.
  • Author guidelines can be found on the journal's page.
  • The paper should be written in professional English. The length of 3000-8000 words is preferred. All manuscripts should be prepared in MS-Word format, and submitted online: or sent to:   

Guest Editors

Dr. Ingrid Harrington, University of New England, Australia. E-mail:

Dr. Ingrid Harrington is a member of the Inclusive Education and Psychology team. Within this team, she specializes in classroom behaviour management, inclusive educational practices and educational psychology. She has long-standing research and teaching commitments with Germany and Malaysia.

Coordinator, Commencing Student Success Project (CSSP)

Team Leader, Learners, Learning and Inclusive Education Team

Project/Team leader, DFAT New Colombo Plan, Mobility project, Malaysia

UNE Representative, ATAR Technical Scaling

Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) Award

NSW Quality Teaching Award

UNE Vice‐Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Learning and Teaching


Dr Robert Whannell, University of New England, Australia. E-mail:

Dr Robert Whannell is a member of the STEM education team and has extensive experience in the role of Student Impact and Engagement officer.  His areas of research focus are in relation to the factors that influence outcomes for non-traditional students in tertiary education, particularly in STEM related areas.

Dates and Timelines

The special issue will be published on July 25, 2021.

The submissions window opens on January 15 2021.

  • Paper Submission deadline        May 31, 2021

For any further information about special issue, please contact with us by email:

Thank you for your time reading this announcement and I am looking forward to receiving your submission.