Contextual and situational influences on student success

Professor Karen Nelson, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Students), USC

The notion of student success is multifaceted, variously interpreted, quantifiable as well as nebulous, both collective and individual, and often transient in nature.  Nevertheless, the term is almost universally regarded as the key indicator of an effective educational experience.  There are robust discussions about various student and institutional characteristics and their relationships with traditional measures of success: namely student completion and retention rates.  However, there is an increasing body of evidence which adopts a wider perspective and considers the contextual and situational factors that influence to student success.  In this keynote, I will discuss some of the complexity associated with student success by adopting a wider perspective that identifies some of the contextual and situations that impact on student success.  I will use a recently modified framework of student engagement (Kahu and Nelson, 2017) to frame the presentation and I will examine the importance of ‘student engagement’ as a mechanism for mediating student success by presenting evidence arising from a large qualitative multi-institutional study that investigated the role of engagement in student success through a series of case studies.

Keywords: student success, student engagement, higher education, retention, completion


Karen is responsible for developing the USC student experience the range of innovative curricular and co-curricular initiatives to enhance the student experience, retention and success.  For 17 years, her research and practice have focused on student engagement in higher education.  In addition to her work at USC and prior to that at QUT, she has led a series of large national projects, which have produced transferrable resources for the sector. These include a maturity model for student engagement and social justice framework for higher education.  In 2016, she led an eight-institution national project ‘Shaping the 21st century student experience in regional universities’ and in 2017 produced a research report for the NCSEHE ‘Understanding the completion patterns of equity students in regional universities’.  Karen is the Editor of the Student Success Journal and Co-Chair of the annual STARS Conference.  Her service and contributions to the sector have been recognized by three Australian Awards for University Teaching.  In 2016 she was made Principal Fellow of the UK-based Higher Education Academy for her sustained record of strategic impact at institutional, national and international level and her commitment to leadership in teaching.


The Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association Inc. (ANZSSA) is a professional association for people with an interest in the role of support services in post secondary education.

For more information, please visit ANZSSA website by


ISANA International Education Association is the representative body for professionals in Australia and New Zealand who work in international student services, advocacy, teaching and policy development in international education.

For more information, please visit the ISANA website at

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.