Employment-driven Online Student Attrition and the Assessment Policy Divide

An Australian Open-access Higher Education Perspective


  • Catherine Moore Swinburne University of Technology
  • Steven Greenland Professor of Marketing at Charles Darwin University




open access, flexible delivery, open education, open educational practices


Two hundred and twenty-six qualitative interviews with students studying at Australia’s largest online tertiary education organisation, Open Universities Australia (OUA), found that failure to complete assessments due to unexpected and unavoidable employment commitments was the standout reason for dropping out of its open-access courses. The
assessment policies of 10 Australian universities that teach the OUA tertiary programmes were then reviewed to evaluate the extent to which employment-related circumstances were considered to be grounds for granting concessions and extensions. Half of these institutions’ policies did not mention employment as an extenuating circumstance, others made only passing reference, and one specifically stated that work was not a valid reason for an assignment extension. In this regard, online students may not be receiving the flexible and accessible learning that online education is purported to provide. This situation highlights a broader issue, in that many online educators are using policies and protocols that are designed for traditional on-campus students without adequate adaptation for the online learner. Considerable scope therefore exists for improving online learner satisfaction and retention by more effectively accommodating online student characteristics and needs.

Author Biographies

Catherine Moore, Swinburne University of Technology

Catherine Moore


Doctoral Candidate: EdD(HE) University of Liverpool(UK)


Lecturer, Information Systems

Swinburne Business School

Department of Business Technology and Entrepreneurship

Phone: +61 3 9214 5771

Mail: PO Box 218 Hawthorn VIC 3122 Australia


Steven Greenland, Professor of Marketing at Charles Darwin University

Steven Greenland is a Professor of Marketing at Charles Darwin University. He has over 25 years marketing experience - 12 years were in senior roles at international market research agencies running multi-country projects and programs for well-known organisations. Steve has held various academic positions including 5 years at the University of Manchester, where he completed his PhD in 1995. He has developed a range of market research subjects that meet the industry demands for work ready graduates. He publishes in the areas of online education, marketing research and business strategy.