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Pressing pause on student success: are you aligning what it means to you with what it really means to your students?

05 Jun 2018 | Advance HE We’ve all been in a meeting where we have heard the latest sector buzzword or strategic priority thrown around as a reason for pursuing a particular course of action or policy direction.

We’ve all been in a meeting where we have heard the latest sector buzzword or strategic priority thrown around as a reason for pursuing a particular course of action or policy direction. Sometimes the connection is frustratingly tenuous or flawed. Even when the evidence is strong, the rationale is valid and the value to your team or project is clear, how many times do we actually press ‘pause’ and check that everyone in the room (plus those who should be in the room, i.e. all relevant stakeholders including students), share a common definition and understanding of the matter in question? 

This habit is particularly important when we are working with cross-functional, institution-wide teams with different backgrounds, experiences, drivers and professional vocabularies, all of which can result in unintended misunderstandings and misalignments in implementation. As daunting as it might be to be the one who puts their hand up to ask “Wait, can I just check what we actually mean by [insert strategic priority / buzzword here]?”, the potential impact on the success of your efforts is huge. 

Once you bring students into the conversation, the value of pressing pause becomes amplified: by becoming more skilled at developing a culture of open dialogue that creates collectively owned definitions, you will improve your ability to get to the heart of what really matters (at an individual and institutional level). Testing and challenging our assumptions can be both scary and enlightening, but without this kind of mind-set we can lead ourselves down the wrong path entirely, which, with finite resources at our fingertips, is not a desirable option for any project.   

‘Student success’ is a prime example of a phrase that is widely used across the global HE sector and variously interpreted. How we define student success as a sector impacts how we talk about it, understand it, try to improve it, measure it, market it and, coming full circle, these each impact how definitions of student success and related strategic priorities evolve over time. 

Dominant definitions tend to focus on retention, attainment and progression, but, as Doug Cole (Head of Student Success, Advance HE) examines in his new thought piece, ‘Developing an integrated institutional approach to student success’, there are also explicit and potentially transformative links to employability that have so far been underexplored in the literature. The article covers several aspects of the current situation, drawing on relevant literature and Advance HE resources, whilst offering practical suggestions about how to ensure that you adopt a more holistic and interconnected approach to student success that will help you to overcome the potential pitfalls of silo working.    

Honing in on one element of Doug’s article, we will leave you with these questions:

  • Do you think you define and understand student success in the same way as colleagues from across your institution?
  • How well do you feel you understand the ambitions of your students and what success really means to them? 
  • Could you be doing more to align these understandings and do you think that ‘pressing pause’ for a moment (whether this be within your teaching or within your strategic planning) would be beneficial?

We will be exploring these questions and many more over the coming months in order to unveil what student success means to different people in different contexts. Join us. 

Read Doug Cole's article ‘Developing an integrated institutional approach to student success’, or find out more about how you can enhance student success.


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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