Since launching the Science Foundation Year (SFY) at the University of Lincoln, our focus has always been to not just give our students the chance to study in higher education (HE), but to provide them with the skills and confidence to thrive.
Now, two years in, the eagerly-awaited results from our first alumni to complete Year 1 of their degree have finally arrived. We had hoped for evidence that our cohort were keeping pace with the direct entry students, despite their lower entry grades, but are delighted that they are actually out-performing their peers. SFY alumni attained higher average Year 1 exam scores than their direct entry peers across all Schools in the College of Science. Most impressively, SFY alumni enrolled on the MPharm Master’s programme attained 9% higher.
We have identified significant bridging of attainment gaps, and even reversals:
- BME SFY alumni attained 10% higher than the Year 1 average.
- Mature SFY alumni attained 13% higher than the Year 1 average (direct entry mature students attained 6% lower than the Y1 average).
- SFY alumni with alternative entry qualifications attained 7% higher than direct entry students with alternative qualifications.
Reflecting the sector’s commitment to promoting more inclusive access to HE, integrated foundation years are becoming an increasingly common feature in institutions across the UK.
A significant number of our students are from our local area, the East Midlands, which has the lowest social mobility scores in England for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, the lowest university entry rates for disadvantaged young people and a third of secondary schools are judged as less than ‘good’. In this context, it is not just subject knowledge that could hold our students back, but more general academic and personal skill gaps.
Self-directed learning is the main thing that I have got from Science Foundation Year. Being able to teach yourself is the fantastic gift that you need if you want to succeed."
Being embedded into an HE setting has helped us immeasurably to provide our students with the opportunity to gain experience in these areas. Through collaboration with the Schools we feed into, as well as wider University services, we have been able to provide sessions on skills such as academic writing and referencing, delivering effective presentations and academic posters, and enhanced lab skills for students whose practical experience is very limited.
Feedback from students and lecturers have given credit to our Study Skills course for equipping our students with the tools to enable their continued success:
‘Because of the skills I got from SFY, now I can often advise or help [my direct entry peers] in things they struggle with.’ SFY Alumnus
‘SFY students are more confident to approach lecturers, to ask questions… and in their approach and productivity.’ Dr Manuela Mura, Senior Lecturer, School of Mathematics
To maximise the benefits of following an integrated pathway, our students are also taught a module by their destination School, demystifying the academic experience within a setting that is more closely supported than that of a first-year degree programme.
We have also placed emphasis on empowering our students to be conscious, independent learners, through a programme of supported self-reflection:
‘Teaching students to learn is genius …invaluable … given us a head start.’
‘I can’t wait to use all the skills, tips, tricks and tools, to aid me in my future learning.’
‘My attitude and learning skills have changed dramatically… it will help me be a much better independent learner.’
Being an integrated course, our students live on campus with access to the full University facilities. Access to the Students’ Union, all clubs, societies and sports teams, as well as living with other students, embeds our cohort into the HE community, instilling a sense of belonging. This ‘campus confidence’ goes a significant way towards dispelling the imposter syndrome that many may feel.
One of the most crucial benefits of an integrated course is access to the University’s Student Wellbeing services, enabling some of our students to gain the invaluable support needed for them to successfully transition into Year 1. A significant number of our students are using the foundation year as a route into HE after personal circumstances have prevented their direct entry. We have found that the introduction to wellbeing support prior to their entry into Year 1 has given them a distinct advantage over students who have entered via other routes and need to build that relationship whist studying in their first year. One example is that our alumni with mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, attained 9% higher in Year 1 than direct entry students with a mental health condition.
Integration, collaboration and keeping a clear aim to support our students to develop holistically will continue to be our driving forces in the coming years. Inspired by our incredibly positive results and student feedback, and the honour of winning a CATE, we are broadening our provision to include a ‘Skills to Success’ programme, delivered by experts from different Colleges and support services across campus, which focuses even more widely on the range of personal attributes and intra-personal skills that our students will need to thrive.
Our success story is just one of many, with integrated foundation years nationwide helping students from typically underrepresented groups to thrive in HE. We urge the sector as a whole to continue to support their foundation years to ensure that students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to contribute to a diverse HE community.
The University of Lincoln Science Foundation Year was founded in 2017 by Kerry Blagden (Director of Foundation Year Studies) who was quickly joined by Ellie Davison (Director of Teaching and Learning) and Jayne Hopkins (Senior Tutor). The team now includes ten academic staff members and over 200 students.