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Ann McManus. USING STUDENTS TO IMPROVE RETENTION AND SUCCESS. Ann McManus Manager of the Academic & Skills Development Centre Cardiff University Introduction. The student e xperience prior to HE

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using students to improve retention and success


Ann McManus

Manager of the Academic & Skills Development Centre

Cardiff University

  • The student experience prior to HE
  • Issues around transition
  • Students as Partners
  • Cardiff University
  • The Mentoring Pilot
  • Final Words
retention and success
Retention and Success

Jane Johns (2011) writing for the HEA claimed that student retention and success would be influenced by:

  • Entrants’ academic background
  • Entrants’ socio-economic background
  • University interventions and services
the student experience before he
The Student Experience Before HE
  • There is clear evidence that schools and universities recognise an unpreparedness for university in many of our students.
  • Prof Alison Wolf from Kings College London (2012) claims “a large number of universities are having to do more lower level work with students when they come in to bring them up to a certain level..” and she went on to say that this was despite “the ever increasing number of people with As.”
the student experience
The Student Experience
  • Quinn et. al. (2005) found the transition difficult for some students;

“In particular students lacked the study skills and ability to undertake self-directed or autonomous learning.”

  • Yorke & Longden (2007)

56% struggled with academic study

34% found work harder than expected

39% found work / life balance difficult


Common things students feel anxious or unprepared for:

  • Referencing
  • Reading lists
  • Taking notes
  • Structuring an essay
  • Benchmarking
  • Feedback
  • Workload
  • Size of lectures
  • Bunching of assignments
  • Lack of opportunity to interact
  • Using the library and other services
  • Living away from home and homesickness
  • Budgeting skills
  • Cooking and shopping
  • Organisational and time management skills
  • Living in halls
  • Making new friends / fitting in
  • Balancing going out with working
  • Too much free time / not enough free time
  • Orientation around university / campus
  • Orientation of new city or town
  • The transition to HE is about much more than academia.

“I hated living in halls. I missed my friends back home and my family.” Leah, Dentistry

“In my first year I spent way too much money in the first few weeks. I took taxis everywhere. Then I was like, “Oh God, I’ve got hardly anything left for the rest of the term!””Gina, Engineering

“I couldn’t find anything. I kept getting lost and I was really intimidated by the library and the lectures.” Jay, Environmental Science

  • A survey by the Cambridge Assessment (3/4/2012) board found that 60% of institutions run support lessons to equip students with better academic skills and autonomous learning skills.
  • But what about those non-academic transition issues? And can Universities bridge the gap?

Yorke and Longden (2008) argued that the responsibility should not rest with students but there was need for institutional involvement.

In particular they highlighted institutional commitment to student learning and engagement with proactive management of student transition.


“Student engagement lies at the heart of retention and success and therefore offers institutions the answer to their improvement… Successful higher education depends on a partnership between a student and the institution they attend.”

Thomas & May (2011)

students as partners
Students as Partners

Thomas and May (2011) argued the case for increased partnership stating that HE institutions should:

  • Develop students’ understanding of the value of engagement
  • Develop the skills to engage
  • Provide opportunities to foster engagement

When a student is genuinely engaged they will develop:

  • A sense of belonging to the institution
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Increased self-sufficiency
  • The ability to act as an institutional ambassador
what cardiff university does
What Cardiff University does…
  • First Campus – Step Up to Uni – open days, events, subject specific days and summer schools
  • Cardiffmentoring – e mentoring for healthcare subjects
  • Law summer schools (in partnerships with Swansea University Law Department)
  • Confident Futures Summer School – for pupils in the care system
  • Discovery Summer School – for pupils with Asperger’s syndrome
  • Cardiff University & Communities First Partnerships homework club
  • A level and GCSE revision clubs
  • Mature student pathways projects to social sciences, humanities and business
  • Live local learn local
  • Autistic Awareness Scheme
  • Student Support Workers
strategic success
Strategic Success
  • 29,000 students
  • Local initiatives
  • Recognising the need to be strategic
the academic skills development centre
The Academic & Skills Development Centre

Academic classes and workshops where students can attend to develop skills in:

critical thinking

how to avoid plagiarism

essay structuring and writing

report writing

effective note taking

critical reading skills

presentation skills*

time management and organisational skills*

revision tips and techniques*

using feedback to feed forward

the idea behind the mentor pilot
The Idea behind the Mentor Pilot
  • Benefits the Mentor and Mentee
  • Breaks down barriers between year groups and creates a feeling of community within the school
  • Friendly face
  • Non threatening
  • Recent and relevant experience
  • Based in Student Support so ideal for sign posting onto other services if needed
  • Works closely with the Students’ Union
  • Supported by but independent to Academic Schools but will refer if problem identified
  • Works closely with Careers and Employability Services
the mentor pilot
The Mentor Pilot

Launched October 2012

Academic year 2012 - 2013

  • 5 Schools / Departments
  • 10 degree courses
  • 42 Mentors
  • Mix of opt-in and opt-out
  • Used by approximately 100 first years
support for the mentors
Support for the Mentors
  • Fortnightly meetings with the Manager of the Academic and Skills Development Centre
  • One day training on Mentoring
  • Handbook
  • Email support
quotes from mentees
Quotes from Mentees
  • “I’m sure if I hadn’t had the mentor this year I would have dropped out.” Business Management
  • “The school does tell us about field trips but I really was anxious about what to bring, where we would be sleeping and what to expect. I would have felt stupid asking a lecturer about these things.” Geology
  • “My mentor created a hand-out on house hunting. I like my Personal Tutor but he wouldn’t have done that.” Dentistry
moving forward
Moving Forward

2013- 2014

  • 6 Schools / Departments
  • 17 degree courses
  • 125 Mentors
  • 20 Senior Mentors
  • Predominantly opt-out
  • Pre-arrival contact
  • Induction Meet and Greet
  • Target of 1,000 first year students
support for the mentors1
Support for the Mentors
  • Fortnightly meetings with the Manager of the Academic and Skills Development Centre
  • A Senior Mentor to contact for advice and guidance and fortnightly meetings
  • Observed once a term by a Senior Mentor
  • Connections (social media) page for Mentors as a platform to share ideas and resources
  • Module on VLE
  • Handbook
  • Online resources
  • One day training on mentoring
  • Half day training on small group dynamics, Socratic questioning, ice-breakers, sharing of resources
benefits to mentors
Benefits to Mentors
  • Can give something back
  • Communication Skills including listening, speaking, writing and presentation
  • Time Management and Organisational skills
  • CV workshop and articulation of skills
  • Cardiff Award – a co-curricula award
  • Develops and evidences responsibility and commitment
  • Sense of belonging to a Mentor Community
  • Engagement
  • Employability awareness
  • It’s fun
benefits to mentees
Benefits to Mentees
  • “Safe” environment to ask questions
  • Can ask academic or non-academic questions
  • Don’t feel judged
  • Get to know other students on their degree
  • Increases engagement and sense of belonging
  • Increases autonomous learning
  • Friendly and informal support when needed
  • Get to learn what is important and relevant
  • Opportunities to socialise together
a sense of belonging
A Sense of Belonging
  • Thomas (2012) wrote that a sense of belonging was achieved through:
    • Supportive peer relations 
    • Meaningful interaction between staff and students 
    • Developing knowledge, confidence and identity as successful HE learners 
    • An HE experience relevant to students’ interests and future goals 
a way forward
A way Forward

Using students to improve retention and success:

  • Recognising student needs, expectations and gaps in knowledge or skills base
  • Creating opportunities to close those gaps
  • Empowering existing students to help with that transition
  • Creating engagement and partnership with students
  • Engendering a community and a sense of belonging in which students are trusted to lead
mentor quote
Mentor Quote

“Being a Mentor does help with your CV and gets you thinking about how you will present yourself. I love being a student here and it was nice this year to be able to pass that on to other students. I really want to continue next year as a mentor because I’ve really enjoyed it. There are lots of ways to enhance your CV but this was really fun!” Grace, Economics year 2

final words
Final Words

“It is the human side of higher education that comes first – finding friends, feeling confident and above all, feeling a part of your course of study and the institution – that is the necessary starting point for academic success.”

Prof Patricia Broadfoot CBE (2012)

  • Cardiff University Education Strategy 2011-12 to 2013-14 (July 2011) (accessed 06/04/2103)

  • Jones, R (April 2008) Student Retention and Success: A Synthesis of Research, EvidenceNet (accessed on 07/04/2013)

  • Stevenson, N (2009) Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Education Vol. 8 #2 University of Westminster, London
  • Thomas & Jamieson-Ball (2011) Engaging Students to improve Student Retention and Success in Higher Education in Wales HEA (accessed on 07/04/2013)

  • Welsh Assembly Government For our Future (November 2009) (accessed 06/04/2013)

  • EdExcel Students Not ready for University (accessed 06/04/2013)

  • What works? Student Retention & Success Summary Report, Prof Liz Thomas March 2012 (accessed 08/04/2013)