Support for students starting at Russell Group universities this year

20 August 2021

Russell Group universities are committed to ensuring that their students are able to move into higher education confidently and are well supported.

Managing a successful, supportive transition is important in any year. The transition from post-16 to higher education can a difficult time for students, particularly if they are from less advantaged or under-represented backgrounds. This year brings the additional challenge of supporting students into higher level study who may have spent most of their post-16 education online, been subjected to gaps in their education, and who may have not had access to the information, advice and guidance that they would have done in a normal year.

Below is a list of illustrative examples of transition programmes that Russell Group universities have developed to support students starting this year.

PARTNERS Academic Summer School: University of Newcastle

The University of Newcastle has been welcoming students to their campus over the summer through their longstanding and successful PARTNERS Academic Summer School (PASS). PASS has been designed to give applicants an early introduction to various aspects of higher education study and help to prepare them for life at the university.

Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the normal weeklong face to face summer school event has been unable to go ahead for the last two years. Instead it has been adapted to be delivered online via the university’s Virtual Learning Environment, Canvas.

During the event, students are taught by undergraduate lecturers in the same subject field that they have applied to, which not only gives them an opportunity to get a head start on course content but also to use the library facilities to complete academic tasks and get to know other students on their course. There is a further opportunity to complete online higher education study skills modules to ease the transition into higher level study and familiarises students with the expectations that come with it.

A total of 1,126 students attended the online PASS in July 2021, with 560,635 views on the online learning platform across the week. Confidence of ability to be successful at university increased from 73% saying they were either ‘very confident’ or ‘confident’ prior to the week to 83% after attending PASS this summer. Similarly confidence in subject area increased from 77% to 87%.

“I really enjoyed the whole week doing PASS as I have gained confidence and met my subject strands while also gaining an insight into the course I will be doing in October. Thanks a lot for everything.”

Participant in the PASS programme in June 2021 at the University of Newcastle

Get a head start: University of Liverpool

Recognising that students this year will experience a tougher transition into higher study, the University of Liverpool has created the ‘Get a head start’ module. This module is an online collection of videos and written materials themed around topics such as fitting in, getting the most of your student experience, study skills and life in Liverpool.

The ‘Get a head start’ module is delivered using their new virtual learning environment, Canvas, which will introduce students to what will be an important learning tool over the course of their university experience. The module is accessible at any time and delivered via videos and bite-sized chunks so progress can be made on the module at students’ own pace.

The University of Liverpool also targets groups that may need extra support when transitioning to higher level study. For example, just ahead of the main welcome and orientation week, the university will run a dedicated programme of on-campus events for commuter students, mature students and disabled students. This includes providing additional support for these students to familiarise themselves with the campus and key support functions.

Northern Ireland Transition Initiative: Queen’s University Belfast  

Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) has spearheaded a partnership between three universities and six further education colleges in Northern Ireland to develop a programme for students transitioning to further and higher education in 2021. This initiative, funded by the Department for the Economy, includes pre-entry support over the summer and in-year wellbeing and academic support.

Over the summer, students will be able to access online courses curated by the Open University to develop subject-specific skills and general study skills to help prepare them for higher level study. Staff and student-led online drop-in clinics and residential schools are also being planned.

A package of online and face-to-face in year support has also been developed by QUB. Their approach will see a focus on academic skills (including laboratory skills, where appropriate) and support services workshops alongside academic tuition to act as bridging support for students in the first few weeks of term. This will be followed by academic recovery support throughout the year, with subject-specific interventions, in addition to a re-designed Peer Mentoring scheme and increased Professional Services provision. 

Tutoring scheme: University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge has launched a pilot tutoring scheme, which aims to support the academic attainment of its 2021 offer holders. The scheme is open to offer holders who are care experienced or in care or who are eligible for Free School Meals. This year, 135 offer holders are undertaking 15 hours of online one-to-one tutoring in a chosen A Level subject. The tutoring started in March and ran until their Year 13 assessments.

The aim of this scheme is to increase the number of students from widening participation backgrounds achieving top grades in their exams and securing the conditions of their university offer. The tutoring has previously helped students to make two and a half times the progress of their peers equivalent to one grade of improvement in just a single term.

“I am very determined and motivated to meet my grade requirements and I know this tutoring scheme will bring me closer to that A* in maths that I need to meet my offer.”

Offer holder, tutoring scheme participant at the University of Cambridge

Transition mentor scheme and student advisors: University College London (UCL)

UCL has a long-running Transition Mentor programme. Every first-year undergraduate is matched to a Transition Mentor, a second- or third-year student from the same degree programme or department. Students meet their mentor once a week in groups of ten. Mentors help students to settle in, they can signpost to other university services, support with administrative tasks, and provide study skills guidance.

In the new 2021–22 academic year, mentoring will remain online to allow access for all students. However, where mentors and mentees are keen to do so and the government guidance allows for, some mentoring groups and social activities will take place in person.

UCL also created the role of Student Adviser to support their 2020–2021 first-year undergraduate students to provide individualised support, enabling all students to build relationships with staff and foster a sense of reassurance and wellbeing. The Student Advisers are based in departments and get in contact with students before they arrive and stay in regular contact throughout the year with information, initiatives, events, and workshops.

In the new 2021–22 academic year they will:

  • Support new students with orientation and transition to university life
  • Engage with students proactively, demonstrating interest in their university experience and care for their wellbeing
  • Offer opportunities and activities for personal development, alongside facilitating connections between students and staff
  • Guide students through relevant UCL policies and processes, promoting and enabling equality and inclusion, resolving issues, signposting or referring enquires as appropriate.

'How-to' information sessions: University of Edinburgh

Before their arrival, University of Edinburgh students are able to self-enrol on a number of short transition courses to get practical advice and information about joining the university and help connect them with professional support staff. These ‘How to’ information sessions cover all the practical things students need to know before starting university – such as guidance on the key study and digital skills needed for learning at university, digital safety advice and information on how to find the support they might need.

Launched last year to support new students to transition to university in response to the disruption faced in their school studies, the courses have been updated for the forthcoming academic year and will supplement the in-person support, mentoring and on campus orientation and induction plans in place for new starters.

Edinburgh students are particularly encouraged to think about key issues facing the world today such as the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, and social inequality. The transition courses offered introduce them to each of these plus topics such as energy, waste, travel, food, and purchasing so that they can engage with more sustainable ways of living in the city as a student.

Pre-arrival academic induction: University of Exeter

The University of Exeter has launched new discipline-specific, pre-arrival induction courses on the FutureLearn platform, building on a successful approach to welcoming students established in its Business School since 2018. By clicking on links from the university’s main New Students’ Guide, new undergraduate and postgraduate students are encouraged to work through resources and activities designed to:

  • Prepare them for study in their chosen discipline
  • Raise their awareness of academic and welfare support
  • Establish inclusive communities of learning and peer-support
  • Encourage a reflective approach to their own development.

With the pre-arrival courses allowing students to access core induction and transition resources, space is freed up during Welcome Week to focus on connecting students at a programme level and prioritising interactive activities. These are complemented by a wide range of peer-mentoring opportunities that connect students with those already on their programme of study, or who share specific interests or characteristics. This year, the university will also evaluate individual students’ preparedness for study via ‘Help us to help you’ tools that direct students to bespoke support via workshops, welfare appointments and personal tutoring.

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