Office for students: Addressing barriers to student success

Law Society London, Chaired by Dr Gurnam Singh

A diverse day of diversity initiatives. Shakira Martin President of NUS, spoke of the impact of poverty and class which restrict choice, access and increase drop-out: she advised us to “Get in and get on” and create “transformative intellectuals”. She emphasized “students need to feel their intellects are validated and valued”. She spoke of the need for culturally competent services to support our diverse student body. Students need affordable accommodation, maintenance grants and paid internships to help overcome the barriers of debt and “not-belonging”.

Different approaches to enhancing experience and employability of widening participation student groups were developed through the “Rules of engagement “cross institutional  project. This aims to level the playing field using work based learning to address the differentiation in graduate employment.  Aston University used speed dating with employers, all with live opportunities for work and focussed on specific programmes with a high number of “W.P.” students. They developed a “talent bank” so that their students could be matched with employment opportunities. City University used “micro-placements” (2 – 5 weeks) to enhance the employability of their law students with little or no work experience. Ulster reviewed and re-designed their accredited in-curriculum employability modules to include segments on “marketing me”, confidence and resilience, “professional credibility” “placement prep research, skills audit, personality profile and career actions aiming to create a forward looking mind set.  They also offered a 1:1 interview and a CV review for students on this module. These actions were highly successful although labour intensive.

Helen Hathaway from University of Derby spoke of their “Practical recipes for student success” https://uodpress.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/press-pack-whole-pdf.pdf . These are comprised of sixteen tips, thinking pieces and interventions that grew from a project re: student attainment in partnership with Solent University and University of West London. These practical recipes are designed to tackle and improve the student attainment gap and focus on areas similar to those identified through co-creation workshops at DMU and further backed by the research literature. For example: learning and the curriculum, relationships, cultural and social capital, psycho-social aspects of student experience and identity. The project also looked at institutional working practices to ensure a sustainable approach to the attainment gap.

Across all the projects the key agents of change were highlighted as staff buy-in and continuous student engagement. Although there is a variety across institutions the need for pilot projects and the recognition of and allowance for a developmental phase was flagged enabling further roll-out of practices, awareness raising and audits of institutional educational practice.

Dr Gurnam Singh closed the conference commenting that we are trying to make history happen here by opening up the H E sector, make it meaningful for a broad range of people. He predicted that in fifty years’ time the sector will look back and acknowledge that those engaged in this area now are truly brave and revolutionary.