Student Success – The role of motivation

Over the past two years the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences has run a research project designed to gain a better understanding of students’ motivation and the underlying reasons for differences in academic performance between students. To do this, we took a psychological perspective and explored differences in students’ motivation and experiences at university.

We conducted 4 studies with both students and staff and on both the Canterbury and Medway campuses. The research looked at 3 key outcomes:

1) student attainment;

2) student retention and engagement;

3) student experience and well-being.

To complete this research we examined the needs of students and staff and how well these are satisfied as part of their university experiences. This then enabled us to identify four key findings.

1. Students who are higher in satisfaction of their needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness needs in university are likely to be more motivated in university, and experience higher general well-being. Crucially they get higher grades too. But more than half the students in our study were not categorised in this highly satisfied needs group.

2. There were differences in the need satisfaction and motivation of our students that related to their background before coming to University. In particular, Black African students and BTEC students find their needs less satisfied at University and report lower motivation, possibly as a consequence.

3. Students who felt teaching supported their needs were more motivated, had higher engagement, less disengagement and were more positive about their learning.

4. Finally, staff who felt pressurised were less likely to adopt motivationally supportive strategies with students. This effect was most notable in staff with commitments to both teaching and research.

Together the findings from our work highlight the benefit of fostering positive student psychological experiences at university. They also emphasise this positive experience can be influenced by both students and staff. We have been using the findings from this research to implement positive changes within the department, including changes to the curriculum, to make sure all our students have better student experience.

For more information on this study and to find out what you can do to improve your motivation at University please contact