What works_ Facilitating an effective transition into higher education

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					What works? Facilitating an effective
transition into higher education
                   Professor Liz Thomas, Higher Education Academy
Student Writing in Transition Symposium, Nottingham Trent University
• Retention and non-completion in England.
• What works? Student retention and success programme
• What works? model: Improving student engagement,
  belonging, retention and success
• Characteristics of effective interventions and approaches
• Effective transition: pre-entry, induction and learning and
  teaching in the first semester/year
• Small group activity: Student stories
• Examples of effective practice from What works?
• Small group activity: Sharing effective practice
• Reflective checklist
• Implementing change                                           2
Defining retention the English way

“The first is the ‘completion rate’ – the proportion of
 starters in a year who continue their studies until they
 obtain their qualification, with no more than one
 consecutive year out of higher education. As higher
 education courses take years to complete, an expected
 completion rate is calculated by the Higher Education
 Statistics Agency… A more immediate measure of
 retention is the proportion of an institution’s intake which
 is enrolled in higher education in the year following their
 first entry to higher education. This is the ‘continuation
 rate’.” (NAO, 2007, p5).

Non-continuation, completion and
thinking about leaving
•The average non-continuation rate was 8.4% for entrants to
English higher education institutions in 2009-10;
•Non-continuation rates varied between English institutions
between 1.2% and 21.4% in 2009-10;
•The average completion rate for students entering institutions
in England in 2009-10 was projected to be 78.4%; and
•Completion rates were projected to vary between institutions
between 53.8% and 97.2% in 2009-10.
•Between 33% (1/3) and 42% (2/5) of students think
about withdrawing from HE.

What works? Student retention and
success programme

• NAO (2007) and PAC (2008): Lack of progress and lack of
  evidence about what works.
• £1 million (Paul Hamlyn Foundation and HEFCE) to
  support 7 projects involving 22 HEIs to identify, evaluate
  and disseminate effective practice.
• The primary purpose of the programme is to generate
  robust, evidence-based analysis and evaluation about the
  most effective practices to ensure high continuation and
  completion rates.

From theory to practice

‘Most institutions have not yet been able
 to translate what we know about
 student retention into forms of action
 that have led to substantial gains in
 student persistence and graduation.’
(Professor Vincent Tinto HEA retention conference 2006)

Seven evaluation projects

1) A comparative evaluation of the roles of student adviser
   and personal tutor in relation to undergraduate student
   retention, Anglia Ruskin University
2) Pathways to Success through peer mentoring, Aston
3) ‘Belonging’ & ‘intimacy’ factors in the retention of
   students, University of Leicester
4) Dispositions to Stay: The Support and Evaluation of
   Retention Strategies Using the Effective Lifelong Learning
   Inventory (ELLI), Northumbria University 

Seven evaluation projects

5) Project 5: HERE! Higher education retention &
   engagement, Nottingham Trent University
6) Comparing and evaluating the impacts on student
   retention of different approaches to supporting students
   through study advice and personal development,
   University of Reading
7) Good Practice in Student Retention: an Examination of
   the effects of student integration on non-completion,
   University of Sunderland

Selected through a competitive tender process.
Key messages

•The key message from these 7 projects is
 the centrality of students having a strong
 sense of belonging in HE; this is most
 effectively nurtured in the academic

•This puts high quality student-centred
 learning and teaching at the heart of
 effective student retention and success.
Key messages

Student belonging is an outcome of:
•Supportive peer relations.
•Meaningful interaction between staff
 and students.
•Developing knowledge, confidence and
 identity as successful HE learners.
•An HE experience which is relevant to
 interests and future goals.
Key findings

• Between 1/3 and 2/5 of students think about withdrawing
  from HE.
• Academic issues, feelings of isolation and/or not fitting in
  and concern about achieving future aspirations are the
  primary reason why students think about leaving.
• Early engagement in the academic sphere (pre-entry,
  induction and first semester) can develop peer networks
  and friendships, create links with academic members of
  staff, provide key information, inform realistic
  expectations, improve academic skills, develop student
  confidence and nurture a sense of belonging.

Key findings

• Relationships between staff and students and peers
  promote and enable student engagement and success in
  HE. These should be nurtured pre-entry, in the classroom
  and in the delivery of professional services.
• Some programmes have better rates of retention than
  would be predicted on the basis of entry grades; and
  some specific interventions have been shown to improve
  retention rates by around 10 percentage points.
• Particularly effective interventions are situated in the
  academic sphere and have an overt academic purpose,
  while also developing peer and staff/student relations.
                 Institutional management and

                                                Student capacity
Staff capacity


                       Social   Service

Early engagement extends into HE and beyond
Implementation: Characteristics of
effective interventions and approaches

     Monitored                  Proactive

                 Well timed &

  What works process

Implement-    Engagement   Belonging    Retention
   ation        (level 1    (level 2   and success
 (activity)    outcomes)   outcome)      (impact)

Student voices

“I knew the campus, I’d been here many times... but, the
  reality of coming was scary... I didn’t know what to expect,
  and there were so many youngsters all seeming to know
  what they were doing.” (Mature student, University of
“Anyone that says they’re not scared is lying because there is
 that fear. Everyone has those giant fears of am I going to be
 liked, am I going to make friends, how am I going to feel
 living away from home… … you know… you’re afraid of
 everything, but you’ve got to grow up some time” (Young
 male, first year student, Aston University).
Student voices

I was worried about like getting on with other people and
  fitting in… I wasn’t worried about the work or anything, it
  was just fitting in. (2nd Year female student, Aston
“Because I’m a single parent I literally come to University to
 study, I don’t have the luxury of having a social life at
 University because I’ve got family commitments.” (Mature,
 local student, University of Sunderland)

Small group activity: Student stories

• Find a person or people near you with the same student
• Read the student story.
• Discuss and make a note of the reasons why this student
  left or thought about leaving higher education.

Effective interventions

Most effective pre-entry and induction interventions
 combine these roles:
• Providing information
• Informing expectations
• Developing academic skills
• Building social capital
• Nurturing a sense of belonging

   Mature students study skills
   summer school, University of Hull
Implementation      2 day non-residential pre-entry study skills
                    summer school for mature students
Mainstream          All mature students, all levels and FT &PT
Proactive*          All students encouraged to attend
Relevant            Explicit academic focus on skills
Well-timed &        Just before new academic year begins.
appropriate media   Develops skills rather provides information.
Collaborative       Includes strong social element, lunch with
                    staff and students.
Monitored*          Qualitative feedback and review of data.
                    Are non-participants followed up?
   Mature students study skills
   summer school, University of Hull
Outcomes                 Focus groups with students and analysis of
                         institutional data
Peer relations           Developed long-term friendships.
Interaction with staff   Got to know programme staff.
Developing capacity      Increased students confidence and skills.
Relevant to current/     The academic focus was particularly
future goals*            welcomed.
Sense of belonging       Created cohort identity.
Retention & success Better retention rates compared to
                    students who did not participate.

Student voices
“...I felt much more able when I realised ‘we all were learning
  this’ and I wasn’t the only one, and I now had people to share
  this with and keep me going [...] and they did when I needed
“…make friends, it’s not what I came here to do and didn’t
 really want to, but it was kind of part of the [weekly] work... I
 kind of had to... and, I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t.”
“we’ve kept each other going and it’s all from the very start,
 from the lunch. Knowing we’d be in [the same] classes
 together brought us together. We said ‘we can help each
 other’ and that’s what we did, and we’re all mates and y’know
 have a coffee and a chat, about Uni and about, well...”
Mature students, University of Hull                                  22
    T-shirt induction activity, Newcastle
Implementation      Fun, semi-structured approach to group
                    formation during induction in engineering
Mainstream          Activity takes place as part of academic
                    induction for all level 1 students.
Proactive           All students participate.
Relevant            It is led by senior lecturer as part of the
                    course. Groups then undertake projects.
Well-timed &        During first week. Emphasis is on forming
appropriate media   groups rather than providing information.
Collaborative       Promotes peer interaction and group working.
                    Structured to promote mixing.
Monitored*          Qualitative feedback and review of data.
                    Are non-participants followed up?             23
    T-shirt induction activity, Newcastle
Outcomes                Surveys and focus groups with students and
                        analysis of institutional data
Peer relations          Groups continued to work and socialise
                        together one year later (58%)
Interaction with staff* Opportunity to get to know a key member of
Developing capacity     Students help each other (44% reported
                        receiving help)
Relevant to             Group working in the curriculum, and
current/future goals*   relevant to engineering employment.
Sense of belonging      Created a belonging always or mostly (81%)
Retention & success     Better retention rates year on year (85-94%)
                        & compared to other engineering schools.     24
   Student voices
“ kind of don’t just feel like one individual person
  on a course, it is kind of like you are in a conglomerate of people
  kind of thing...I think it does definitely make you feel part of the
  group or part of something within the year group rather than just
  one lone person.”
“First year is bad because you don’t know anyone....if you don’t set
  up the design group you have got to make friends, where are you
  going to make friends kind of thing.....well you wouldn’t
  usually.....and if it was all individual work. You have to stick
  around to do the work and obviously if it is group work you are
  forced to meet people....”.
“…I think if you are part of the kind of group then if, if you are
  going to drop out then.... or if you are struggling academically
  then you have got people there to support you as well”.                 25

(CEAM students, Newcastle University)
    Student-centred learning & teaching
a) Staff/student relationships: knowing staff and being able to
   ask for help.
b) Curricular contents and related opportunities: providing real
   world learning opportunities which are interesting and relevant
   to future aspirations motivate students to engage and be
   successful in higher education.
c) Learning and teaching: group based learning and teaching
   that allows students to interact with each other, share their
   own experiences and learn by doing. A variety of learning
   experiences, including work placements, and delivered by
   enthusiastic lectures were found to be important too.
d) Assessment and feedback: clear guidelines about assessment
   processes and transparency about criteria and feedback to assist
   students to perform better in the future.                      26
    Student-centred learning & teaching
a) Personal tutoring: as a means of developing a close
   relationship with a member of staff who oversees individual
   progress and takes action if necessary, including direct students
   to appropriate academic development and pastoral support
b) Peer relations and cohort identity: having friends to discuss
   academic and non-academic issues with, both during teaching
   time and outside of it, and a strong sense cohort identity.
c) A sense of belonging to particular a place within the
   university, most usually a departmental building or a small
   campus, or a hall of residence.

    Problem-based learning in groups,
    University of Sunderland
Implementation      Core level 1 course using problem-based
                    learning in groups of 8 students.
Mainstream          This is part of mainstream curriculum.
Proactive           All students participate, and group work is
Relevant            Relevant to current learning and team
                    working in employment.
Well-timed &        During first week. Emphasis is on forming
appropriate media   groups rather than providing information.
Collaborative       Uses the academic sphere to facilitate social
                    integration. Staff work with groups of 8
Monitored*          Qualitative feedback and review of data.        28
  Problem-based learning in groups,
  University of Sunderland
Outcomes                Surveys and focus groups with students and
                        analysis of institutional data
Peer relations          Students worked in groups outside of the
                        classroom and made friends.
Interaction with        Opportunity to get to know staff in small
staff*                  groups.
Developing capacity     Supported to work in groups through
                        coaching and other staff support.
Relevant to             Able to relate to own experiences and
current/future goals.   interests.
Sense of belonging      Created a sense of belonging.
Retention & success     Better retention rates year on year from
                        77% to 85%.                                 29
Student voices

“I made [friends] through my seminars, really. I got four
  really good friends, and I’ve just clicked with them straight
  away, and then we sit together in lectures and stuff. And
  now I’m working on this project with them and we’ve been
  meeting up outside of Uni and stuff.”
“[...]I like that you can work together and somebody can
 bring a piece of information that you’ve never heard of, and
 you can bring something that somebody else has never
 heard of, and then you can swap them and find out how
 they found it and what’s in the research. I like that.”
(Psychology students, University of Sunderland)
Group activity

• Discuss interventions or approaches that you are familiar
  with that would have helped the student you discussed
• Be prepared to feedback to the group one intervention
  that might have helped and why.

    Reflective checklist
1. To what extent is transition work focused on social
   engagement and developing social capital (contacts or networks
   to draw on), rather than on provision of information?
2. How early are you starting to build meaningful relationships
   with and between students, so that they know who to ask if
   they need information or support?
3. To what extent do your transition activities have an overt
   academic purpose? Could the academic element be increased?
   In what ways are academic members of staff involved in
   transition activities?
4. Do you have sufficient structured opportunities for students to
   get to know members of staff? Is this sufficient to enable
   students to get to know staff and be able to ask for information
   or support?                                                        32
    Reflective checklist continued
5. To what extent do pre- and post-entry transition activities
   facilitate students getting to know peers from the same course
   or programme? Is there a structured approach to encourage
   mixing outside of their comfort zones?
6. Does your transition programme make the benefits of academic
   and social engagement explicit to students and provide them
   with skills and opportunities to engage?
7. To what extent do transition activities build on and relate to
   students diverse interests, experiences and backgrounds?
8. In what ways is the relevance of the course or programme of
   study to students’ future aspirations made explicit both pre- and
9. Have you reviewed the implementation and outcomes of your
   transition activities using the framework presented in this paper?
Prioritise developing student capacity through social
 engagement with an academic purpose.
‘This seminal initial stage of the first few weeks at university
  can have a substantial effect on students’ eventual
  socialization into university culture and therefore their
  engagement with educationally effective practices’ (Vinson
  et al. 2010, p133).
‘Those who feel at home, who take part in extra-curricular
  activities, and who feel connected with fellow students and
  teachers, are more inclined to persist with their studies.
  Without social integration, it is more difficult to persist,
  and ultimately to graduate’ (Severiens & Schmidt, 2009,
  p.60).                                                           34
Implementing change

Institutional change programme 2012-15.
•Institutional review.
•Strategic planning and implementation of changes.
•Changes at course/programme level including induction,
active learning and teaching and co-curricular activities
•Aligning student union activities to promote academic
engagement and belonging.
•Research about the process of change.
•External evaluation of impact.

Thank you!

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