In the past decade there has been a dramatic growth in UK student numbers, with students from non-traditional and under-represented groups being encouraged to participate in higher education. However, levels of withdrawal in those higher education institutions that have a greater proportion of non-traditional students have also been increasing. Higher education institutions have introduced various strategies in an effort to cope with this problem, but unfortunately current models offer little in the way of explaining the causes of (and little justification for the strategies used to reduce) withdrawal. It is proposed that in attending to the explanations of withdrawal, consideration must be given to discovering the underlying characteristics of the teaching and learning environment and the manner in which a student's perceptions and expectations of that environment may impact on their decision to withdraw. An ethnographical study using grounded theory is used to capture these underlying characteristics. This study provides an explanation of the teaching and learning environment as it relates to the student's beliefs, the actions between the student and staff and the intentions of the institution. The results of this initial study are presented. These results represent a preliminary 'grounded' model of the teaching and learning environment of the Technology Faculty at Southampton Institute.