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Attributed Reasons and Suggested Remedies for Academic Failure: An Initial
Exploration among Young Adults in Malappuram District
Abdul Gafoor K.
Paper presented in
International Conference Transforming Indian Higher Education to a New World Order: Envisions,
Roadmaps & Implementation
November 3-5, 2022
Mother Teresa College of Teacher Education, Perambra, Kerala
Attributed Reasons and Suggested Remedies for Academic Failure: An Initial
Exploration among Young Adults in Malappuram District
Munshidha K., 1 & Abdul Gafoor K., 2
1. Research Scholar, Department of Education, University of Calicut
2. Professor, Department of Education, University of Calicut
Higher education equips people to inculcate the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in
today's world. In India, National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 focuses on key reforms in higher
education that make ready the next generation to flourish and succeed in the new digital age. So
the higher education system should ensure the quality meets the same. In this regard, the system
needs to instil in students the hope for their success. Despite this, some students are lacking it
because of the prevailing educational practices. The pass percentage of undergraduate students is
not so high. This means that higher education is lacking something. The present paper reports on
a qualitative exploration study using sequential semi-structured interviews on the perceptions and
attributions of academically failed undergraduate students from the Malappuram District of Kerala
(N=10). Reasons for their academic failure attributed to the Teacher, Curricular, Transactional,
Learner and Institutional related practices in their undergraduate programme were identified and
suggestions there for improvement of higher education practices were derived. The
recommendations by the young learners can be implemented to make the higher education system
more learner-friendly and the findings here will help to enhance the curricular reforms and improve
the excellence of higher education.
Keywords: Higher Education, Undergraduate, Pass-Fail, student-failure, Attributions
Context of the study
“Hope is the companion of power, the mother of success” -Samuel Smiles
Higher education plays a vital role in the development of our country as well as the world. It
equips people to inculcate the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in today's world and also
assists the people in the workforce. It supports both directly and indirectly the wealth of our nation.
Therefore, the country’s future depends on a massive expansion of education particularly at the
higher education level. With this realization, NEP 2020 focuses on key reforms in higher education
that make ready the next generation to flourish and succeed in the new digital age. It also aims to
increase the gross enrollment ratio (GER) in Higher Education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035.
With the higher education system across the globe, and more so in countries like India with
a growing young population, the highest policy priority is to enhance GER. Students are enrolled
in a diverse category of higher education institutions, but mostly in different colleges such as
Government, Aided, and Unaided. Because of many systemic and random reasons, students may
fail at the graduation level itself. For example, if the case of Calicut University, the largest higher
education institution in Kerala both by student size and geographic jurisdiction is considered, for
the year 2022, the pass percentage of students in the arts stream is 82.67% and 80.89 % in the
science stream. Hence, this study attempts to an initial exploration of attributed reasons and
suggested remedies for academic failure among young adults in the Malappuram district of Kerala.
Surely, labelling students by pass-fail category is obsolete, especially in an education
system that encourages inclusive norms, and practices. It is also true that failing to pass an
academic programme cannot be considered the final nail in anybody’s life prospects. However,
when an individual does not successfully carry out the task, whether in academics or any other
socially desired field of endeavour, the adjective still often used is failed. Academic failure to pass
the study programmes is painful and costly for students, teachers and higher education institutions.
Recent studies show several factors contribute to student failure to pass undergraduate
programmes. They include personal factors such as self-confidence, study habits and attitudes; life
circumstances such as health, employment and family responsibilities; and institutional factors
such as policies, procedures and the curriculum. Failing a subject is not just the students' fault.
Despite being common, academic failure to pass undergraduate programmes is rarely discussed in
universities and it’s often attributed to students’ laziness and not caring enough. We didn’t notice
or hear about the students who failed the higher-level exams. So this study raises the question
‘Why did you fail? And Who could have helped you to escape the failure and how?’ to a few
young adults who have failed to pass their undergraduate programme, purposefully sampled as
per convenience and representing arts, science and technical streams. The answers are summarized
to see the implications for qualitative improvement of curricular and institutional practices in
Rationale for the Study
In the broadest sense, failure is the gap between an expected or desired result and what one
ultimately experiences (Cannon & Edmondson, 2005). More exclusively, failure is the lack of
ability to meet the needs of an achievement context and not achieve a specific goal. As the primary
stakeholders and benefactors of higher education, students have the say to suggest some
recommendations for improving the current practices in the field. If the prevailing educational
practices were capable of igniting students’ hopes and revamping their potential, it would have
been a greater advantage for them to reach their ambitions and taste success.
Hope is an emotion that guides individuals to attain their target. It also provides a sense of
motivation so they can work towards it. It is not only the aspiration for something good but a firm
determination to achieve better even if we have to overcome many challenges along the way.
The student’s engagement and hope are the best indicators of future success (Calderon and Jones,
2018). The students who enthusiastically involve in academic activities and efforts are more
hopeful for the future and have better academic performance than their disengaged peers.
Therefore imbibing hope in students is very important. The education system can play a vital role
to instill hope in students. So if the higher education system is capable of doing the same it will be
a great contribution to the individuals and the nation also. So this study probed the perceptions and
attributions of failed undergraduate students regarding the Teacher, Curricular, Transactional,
Learner and Institutional related practices in their undergraduate programmes and derived
suggestions therefrom for improvement of higher education practices. The findings here will help
to enhance the curricular reforms and improve the quality of higher education.
The objective of this Study
To explore the perceptions and attributions of academically failed undergraduate students
regarding the Teacher, Curricular, Transactional, Learner and Institutional practices in their
undergraduate programmes and to derive suggestions therefrom for improvement of higher
The study used a qualitative exploratory design with an inductive approach and aims to
provide insight into relevant learner and institutional factors that leads to academic failure among
undergraduate students based on student's own perception which in turn will turn initial steps for
developing a conceptual framework of factors related to academic success-failure among late
adolescents and young adults in institutional and socio-political contexts where the focus is on
higher enrollment than own student-learning and success. The sample is 10 undergraduate students
who have failed in their graduate programme in one or more courses by using a purposive sampling
technique. The students belonged to 5 higher education institutions in the Malappuram district and
were affiliated with more than one university, as they belong to technical, arts and science streams.
The telephonic interview was conducted using a semi-structured technique. They were enquired
about their perceived reasons for failure to pass the undergraduate programme and were further
followed up for the suggestions they recommended to avoid academic failure caused by the reasons
they perceived. The sequential interviews after a lapse of 1-2 days, to further probe the perceived
causes and the possible solution, therefore, helped elicit more information than one-time single
By analyzing the interview reports, perceptions of the cause of failure were identified first.
Thereafter, the suggestions for improvement were identified under five major areas namely,
Learner related, Curriculum, Transaction, Institution and Teacher related.
The perceived reasons for academic failure among undergraduate students
The reasons for academic failure among undergraduate students, as expected, are varied
and complex. The perceived reasons for failure among undergraduate students in the area namely
Learner related, Curriculum, Transaction, Institution and Teacher related are as follows.
● Perceived Learner related reasons for failure among undergraduates
The failed graduate students attributed their failure to pass undergraduate programmes to
their reasons like lack of previous knowledge. Lack of previous knowledge causes them difficulty
in developing more advanced concepts. They also shared their worries like lack of career
awareness, future job opportunities and hence low motivation to complete the programme. During
the programme, such students fail to realize the consequences of failure in their studies and hence
class bunking was a routine for them.
● Perceived Curriculum related reasons for failure among undergraduates
Some curricular-related factors also were the reasons for students' failure in their
undergraduate programme. All the students interviewed observed that the syllabus was outdated
and that their syllabi fails to motivate them to study. They shared that the content difficulty is also
a problem for them.
● Perceived Transaction related reasons for failure among undergraduates
The students gave their explanations about the curriculum transactional approaches for why
they failed to succeed in their undergraduate programme. These include poorly scheduled classes
and their timing. Many of their portions are completed in a limited time making it difficult to
understand the concepts well. They observed that visual media is not used in the teaching-learning
process. During the process, the teachers treated all the students equally such that the classes were
uninteresting and uninspiring impeding their motivation to attend the classes further.
● Perceived Institution related reasons for failure among undergraduates
The students felt that their failure to pass undergraduate programmes was connected to
several institution-related problems also. Lack of proper mentoring and lack of strict rules and
regulations are the major oversights of the higher education institution they were attending.
● Perceived Teacher related reasons for failure among undergraduates
The students felt that their teachers too contributed to their failure to pass their
undergraduate programme causing issues in respect of many factors. Teachers, these students felt,
were not equipped to meet their doubts and they were weak in using technology in teaching-
learning. Many teachers were committed to the teaching process only to get an experience from
them. There was no proper mentoring or individual attention. Teachers, according to the
academically failed students, did not give an orientation on required attendance levels for
successful completion of their respective courses, leading students to bunk their classes.
Students who failed to pass undergraduate programmes attribute many reasons for their
failure to pass and recommend some suggestions for improvement as summarized in Figure 1. The
students felt that all these attributed reasons can be minimized by the remedies suggested by them.
It includes a lot of recommendations to teachers, curriculum, transactions and institutions. The
suggestions therefrom to improve the higher education practices. The findings here will help to
enhance the curricular reforms and improve the quality of higher education.
The student suggested remedies for failure among undergraduate students
The student-suggested remedies for preventing the reasons for their failure to learn, curriculum
content, curricular transaction, and institutional and teacher sources among undergraduates are as
● Suggested remedies for academic failure sourcing from learner factors among
By having the college offer any bridge courses that encourage students to lessen the content's
challenges. They can ensure the quality of teaching. Students are more motivated to complete the
course within the allotted time due to the introduction of the campus placement cell for educating
them about future chances. Proper mentoring also can be done as part of the institution.
● Suggested curriculum-related remedies for academic failure among undergraduates
The students recommended changing the curriculum and making sure the syllabus is skill-oriented.
● Suggested transaction-related remedies for failure among undergraduates
The use of visual aids and rigidly planned sessions increases the learner's motivation to pay
attention in class. Relational pedagogy is also an important factor in the transaction process which
means a deliberate interaction between caring teachers and students to create and maintain healthy
relationships that promote their students' cognitive and emotional development throughout their
● Suggested institution-related remedies for academic failure among undergraduates
The institution has the authority to enact effective attendance policies and regular parent meetings.
● Suggested teacher-related remedies for academic failure among undergraduates
The teachers must have the repertoire to expertly instruct the students on their subject matter. There
should be some programmes for equipping the teachers with the tools they need to effectively
employ visual aids in their lessons. They can set up special coaching sessions to provide people
who require it with individual attention. An introduction to attendance might be provided by the
Figure 1 attempts a summary of the perceived problems of undergraduate students for their
academic failure and suggestions for improvement.
Figure 1.The Summary of Students' Perceived Reasons for Undergraduate Academic Failure and
Their Suggested Remedies.
The students are deeply distressed in many instances. Helping students to mobilize their
resilience strategies through seeking social and academic support. Teachers, Curriculum,
Transaction and Institution can help the students to unpack the factors that impact their
performance and make interventions to improve their study habits, navigate the system, develop
social networks and adapt their career pathways. Only through proper mentoring from the teachers,
curricular reformation, effective transaction, enhancement of the learner-related factors and great
backup from the institution can they retain their hope for their future. However, it is to be borne in
mind that the findings from exploratory studies are not generally useful for decision-making by
themselves. However, the observed reasons and suggested remedies identified from among
academically failed young adults who had undergone undergraduate programmes provide
significant insights into the barriers in curricular practices, student-teacher relationships, and
institutional and organizational factors to effective and quality higher education, especially in
comparable socio-educational contexts. This was a very preliminary effort to throw light upon as
to the "why", and "how" of academic failure among undergraduates in the context of enhancing
HER despite stagnating investments in higher education.
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