Why lecturers still matter: the impact of lecturer-student exchange on student engagement and intention to leave university prematurely


This research examines the impact of lecturer-student exchange (student-LMX) on engagement, course satisfaction, achievement, and intention to leave university prematurely for 363 students in one Australian university. Survey and grade point average (GPA) data were collected from domestic undergraduate first- and second-year students and analysed using structural equation modelling. The results indicated that student’s levels of engagement and course satisfaction fully mediated the relationship between student-LMX and intention to leave university, when demographic and socio-economic factors were controlled for. In an era when low student engagement and attrition is often attributed to individual demographic factors, and lecturers are under increasing threat of being replaced by technology, this research offers compelling evidence regarding the role of lecturer-student relationships in enhancing tertiary student outcomes.

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Correspondence to Ben Farr-Wharton.

Appendix 1 Questionnaire items

Appendix 1 Questionnaire items

Student-LMX (from Graen and Uhl-Bien 1995)

In general, the lecturing and teaching staff in my subjects:

  • are satisfied with my work

  • recognise my potential

  • understand my study problems and needs

  • are willing to use their position to help me solve study problems

  • would be willing to help me in their own time

  • make good decisions and I would defend or justify these decisions if they were not present to do so

  • Encourage a good learning relationship

Student engagement (from Schaufeli et al. 2002)

I am bursting with energy.

I find the study that I do full of meaning and purpose.

Time flies when I am doing my university studies.

When I get up in the morning, I feel like doing my university studies.

I am enthusiastic about my university studies.

I am immersed in my university studies.

I feel happy when I am studying intensely

Course engagement

On the whole the learning experiences and content in the course that I am currently enrolled in:

  • are what I expected

  • are interesting

  • equip me with the skills I need to achieve my career goals in the future

  • leave me feeling satisfied

Intention to leave university (from Cammann et al. 1983)

I frequently think about leaving this university.

I am searching for other employment or study opportunities so I can leave this university.

It is likely that I would actually leave this university within the next year.

I am exploring opportunities to leave my studies.

Economic Status (adapted from Farr-Wharton et al. 2015).

My income is on par to people my own age.

I have the ability to purchase items that I want.

I have the ability to purchase items that I need.

I have enough money to live well.

I do not experience financial hardship.

I am satisfied with the income that I have

Educational preparedness

My previous education has prepared me well for my current studies.

My achievement at university is similar to my achievement in the previous education I have done.

My previous education was of quality.

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Farr-Wharton, B., Charles, M.B., Keast, R. et al. Why lecturers still matter: the impact of lecturer-student exchange on student engagement and intention to leave university prematurely. High Educ 75, 167–185 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-017-0190-5

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  • Retention
  • Student-centred learning
  • Lecturers
  • Achievement
  • Engagement
  • Student-LMX