Background: Attendance of university students at their timetabled teaching sessions is usually associated with higher levels of educational attainment. Attendance is usually considered to reflect students’ level of engagement with their course and to be critical to student success; despite the potential for technological alternatives, lectures and other face-to-face sessions still tend to be the primary method of teaching at university. Purpose: Here we review studies which have investigated these determinants of attendance in order to gain a better understanding of whether–and how–Higher Education Institutions are able to improve attendance rates. Sources of evidence: Electronic databases (e.g. ERIC, Web of Science) were used to identify articles exploring attendance in Higher Education settings. Main argument: Some of the most debated determinants of attendance are reviewed: teaching issues (e.g. quality, style and format); effects of university expectations and policy (e.g. mandating attendance, awarding grades for attendance); scheduling issues; provision of materials online; and the effects of individual factors arguably outside of the Higher Education Institution’s control (e.g. finance, student employment, student demographics and psychological factors). Conclusions: It is suggested that, although some individual factors influence student attendance and are arguably out of the control of HEIs, it is possible for them to facilitate attendance through adjustments to aspects of degree delivery such as attendance policies and monitoring, timetabling and style of teaching. Implications for policies on the recording of lectures, curriculum design and student term-time working are also discussed. Future research on student attendance should include longer and larger studies which simultaneously consider a range of influences; examining both inter- and intra-individual variability and different types of teaching sessions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-387
Number of pages17
JournalEducational Research
Issue number4
Early online date8 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Educational Research on 8 Sept 2019, available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/00131881.2019.1660587


  • Attendance
  • engagement
  • higher education
  • review
  • students
  • university


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