Student Retention and Success: outcomes from the What Works? programme

photo by Kathrine Jensen

Over a three-year period 22 HEIs have participated in the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme funded by HEFCE and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. I went to the University of York (at the very lovely – and on the day very sunny – new Heslington East campus as seen in the photo) last week to hear about the outcomes of this research programme.

Professor Liz Thomas gave an overview of the programme findings and highlighted the common theme of students having a strong sense of belonging and that the academic sphere was the key area for developing the sense of belonging. This message relating to embedding student engagement, support and development in the curriculum came through very strongly and with a very robust evidence base.

“At the heart of successful retention and success is a strong sense of belonging in HE for all students. This is most effectively nurtured through mainstream activities that all students participate in…. The academic sphere is the most important site for nurturing participation of the type which engenders a sense of belonging.” (Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change: a summary of findings and recommendations from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme Report by Professor Liz Thomas, March 2012).

I am told by the HEA that all relevant reports will be available soon on the HEA What Works webpages

Professor Sally Kift from Queensland University of Technology, Australia highlighted that research indicated student success was largely determined by their experiences during the first year and she had some key messages around the curriculum as driver for engagement:

  • Bolt-on approaches to student support and engagement do not work, curriculum integration is key.
  • Need to harness the curriculum to deliver academic and social engagement, contextualised support and whole-institutional approach
  • Induction needs to be over a period of time and students should be encouraged to ask for help and information at many points
  • Institutions need to be consistent about assessment criteria, the wording used, consistent naming of assessment tasks

It was a bit disappointing that the Twitter hashtag was not well publicised and tweeting was hampered by the # having to be changed to #whatworks2012 as the one suggested by the HEA was already in use. Nevertheless I found some interesting people to follow.

You can watch the keynote presentations

Further details abut the conference as well as links to presentations are available on the HEA event website

Posted by: Kathrine Jensen


About talintuoh

Supporting and connecting colleagues to develop inspiring and innovative teaching and learning
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