Transitioning to university can be challenging for many students, causing anxiety and having a negative impact on their mental health. Elliot Newstead is Head of UK Student Recruitment and Outreach at the University of Leicester, in this post he discusses how universities can learn from each other to improve the support provided to students transitioning into Higher Education.
The Importance of Student Transitions in Higher Education
A lot has changed in the last two years. With the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, most workplaces have transitioned to hybrid working, changing office behaviours and patterns. It’s now acceptable to receive an Amazon delivery during a meeting or answer the door, people ask ‘are you back in the office or still Working from home?’ a lot more than they used to and I have a small child I didn’t have before.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that students still need support with the transition to university. No matter what level of education they’re entering, the transition to the next step is tough and causes anxiety for many individuals.
Interestingly, at a Teachers’ Advisory Group I attended recently, there was a consensus that every university should be better at transition. Every university has students at different levels of study and the transition can have an impact on many people’s mental health. The university needs to be better equipped to assist the students in this transition if they need help.
This shared sentiment between universities got me thinking about those who may have had specific transition programmes prior to the pandemic, and those who have developed new programmes as a response to the challenges we’ve all faced. There are many programmes already in place and universities need to be a little louder in sharing the work they are already doing.
Having said that, we should be proud enough of a sector to acknowledge, that we’re not quite there yet. We can all learn from each other, adapt the programmes we have in place if they aren’t meeting student needs and most importantly, we can learn from our student cohorts.
At the University of Leicester, we developed HeadStart and have learned a lot about what works and where the major problems are in supporting transition ‘properly’ as a university.
What Strategies work
- Take the time to listen and care. Sounds sensible, right? Now think about how your institution currently does this before your students arrive. Do you really listen and care about their anxieties and concerns? Do you share these with your student support teams? Could you improve how students are supported before they arrive at university?
- Approach transition holistically. It’s a big task. A coherent approach that brings together colleagues from across the university provides a much more seamless student experience, communication is key in understanding what help students may need.
- Can you link your undergraduate and postgraduate support? We found that whilst our activity was primarily aimed at undergraduate students, sessions (particularly around academic skills) were of huge interest to the postgraduate market. These sessions were particularly well received by those who had been out of education for a while between studies. Consider the ways undergraduate and postgraduate staff work together to ensure all students can access the help they need to cope with transition.
What are the problems universities face in helping students with transitions?
This is just a selection of the issues universities have to overcome to improve supporting students in transitions. Identifying these issues have really helped us at the University of Leicester in developing Headstart and providing support to students and guidance to staff so they are more likely to buy-in to an institutional approach to improving transitions.
- It’s daunting. Universities are big, cumbersome organisations. Gaining academic and professional service buy-in to an institutional project is tough. Top tip: Coffee and cake are simple, effective tools to encourage buy-in!
- Engaging your audience. It’s not a major surprise that students who might require higher levels of support are, sometimes, the hardest to reach. Top tip: Sometimes a simple phone call is all it takes. The insight you get can help shape your full programme of activity
- Making it someone’s job. Does any university have a dedicated transition officer/team? (a fairly quick skim of jobs.ac.uk would suggest very few.) Think about your resourcing, can you dedicate to an individual or group of people as a specific project? Top tip: Once you start, you can’t really stop. Be confident you can deliver before launching to the public.
Transition is now as important as conversion as ever. If you don’t believe me, then consider continuation rates and the Office for Students guidance when thinking about your own university. If we keep learning as a sector and carry on the conversation then we can improve the transition process for students, easing their anxiety and improving their experiences at university.
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