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Connect Benefit Series - Transitions, retention and progression

02 Aug 2021 | Ben Brabon Our first Connect Benefit Series for 2021-22 launches with a three-month long project exploring transitions, retention and progression in higher education.

Our Connect Benefit Series for 2021-22 launches with a three-month long project entitled 'Transitions, retention and progression'. As the project progresses, we will explore and recognise the potential impact of the past year on students’ confidence, study skills and wellbeing, aiming to support members in adopting practical, evidence-based approaches to enhance the student experience in transition and to support retention and progression.  

The aims of this project are to: 

  • share the experiences of students, staff and stakeholders 

  • consider what we have learnt over the 2020-2021 academic year about the enablers and inhibiters to transitions, retention and progression 

  • gather key questions and challenges in this area 

  • engage with practical examples and expert advice on what works 

  • crowdsource ideas and solutions from the community 

  • discuss ways to put into practice effective examples and methods to enhance approaches to transitions, retention and progression. 

As this project launches, Advance HE associate Ben Brabon shares his thoughts on New Transitions: 

As we look to the beginning of the new academic year, we are confronted with new areas of uncertainty and possibility as students cross the threshold into higher education and for some, return to unfamiliar surroundings. From debates about student vaccinations and on-campus lectures, to the embedding of hybrid and HyFlex educational models, the sector’s ‘new normal’ for students, staff and other stakeholders has renewed focus on the subtle nuances of contextualised transitions and progression, as well as individual student journeys.

Recent research from The Sutton Trust (July 2021), indicates that 69% of students feel that they have fallen behind with their work due to the impact of the pandemic; 53% of applicants are worried about starting university; and 34% feel unprepared. It is within this context that HEIs will need to continue to refresh their approach to student transitions, progression and retention, and in so doing, reimagine the purpose, format and scope of pre-arrival, arrival, orientation, reorientation, induction and re-induction.

For new and returning students, their experience of learning, teaching and assessment in school and university settings over the last year has changed, and at times, confounded expectations. The challenge to students’ ability to fully engage in time-honoured, pre-pandemic, identity-forging activities and interactions, as well as experience the multi-faceted influences of the hidden curriculum within specific embodied educational settings, has disrupted some of the traditional pathways that students follow as they move into and through a university education. Now, arguably more than ever, the nature of belonging for learners in all educational contexts and levels needs to be better defined, strengthened and supported so that transitions between levels of learning are not confronted as trip hazards that can send students falling into academic and social isolation – particularly when learner expectations change during the learning experience due to extrinsic forces. We need to continue to remind ourselves that: ‘The learning jump and life responsibilities between school/college and higher education can be quite wide especially for applicants with different entry qualifications and other demographic characteristics. Covid-19 is likely to [continue to] exacerbate these prior experiences and concerns’ (Morgan 2020).

Once again, we need to consider the whole student learning journey and the multiple points of transition that are encountered by individual students. In so doing, we need to take into account the ways in which each and every learning journey and transition look different for students entering and continuing in higher education in 2021-2022. For example, a returning student going into their second year of study may experience it as their first full year on campus, so that re-induction and re-orientation become in effect induction and orientation.

Each HEI’s response may manifest through specific interventions and additional support, such as closer working relationships with schools during clearing; extended pre-arrival and arrival activities; integrated approaches to student wellbeing and mental health; and diagnostic forms of formative assessment that are focused on identifying gaps in prior learning and core knowledge. Going forward, the challenge for HEIs in improving student transitions, progression and retention will be grounded increasingly on good educational design that meets the needs of place, pace and participation of learners in relationship to the multiple routes that they take into, through and out of higher education.

Connect Benefits Series Transitions, retention and progression 

This project will take place over August, September and October, with outputs including podcasts, responses from a panel of experts and a facilitated clinic. Find out more here.   


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