My People of the year – 2019

It may not quite be the end of the year, or indeed the decade, but writing a list of people who I’ve found inspiring is cathartic, doing this before we know the results of this week’s election, one which has been characterised by lying and the worst of people.

Sport

In at number one and representing the world of sport. In a year where as always we could be spoilt for choice, I picked Dina Asher Smith. Academically brilliant – 10 A* at GCSE, 3 As at A level and a first from King’s London, this year she was winner of the 200m title in the World Athletics Championships 2019 and she is the fastest British woman runner in history.

Music

From the world of music, my album of the year is Kiwanuke, the third album from Michael Kiwanuke. Soulful, and written to be listed to as an album, which suits us older folk!

Public Life

For standing up for what is right, despite all the smears, and being prepared to use the British judicial system to hold parliament to account, despite all the obstacles place in her way, Gina Miller. It’s worth reading the linked article for an understanding of what she believes in.

Books

In literature, the inestimable Margaret Atwood. Continuing the story of the dystopian Gilead is a parable for our times.

Cinema

One of the most powerful films this year was “Sorry, We Missed You”. Ken Loach at the age of 83 still produces work with a sublime combination of empathy and shock. His portrayal of the gig economy and its effect on individual and families should be watched by anyone, in fact everyone, who relies on their purchases from Amazon or elsewhere being delivered by courier. You won’t complain about a late or mishandled delivery again.

On the subject of film, mention has to go to Debbie Honeywood, an unknown actor who played Abby in “Sorry We Missed You”. Two of her scenes, both where we see and hear just her side of a phone call, are some of the most moving in the film.

Politics

From the world of politics, it sometimes seems hard to find someone you might respect, but look beyond this small island and its ongoing psychodrama and we have Jacinda Ardern. Her response to the massacre in Christchurch was a lesson in humility, dignity and leadership to all others.

Science

As a scientist, I have to pick someone from the world of science, and who better than Katie Bouman. Her excitement was infectious when the first ever photograph of a black hole was revealed, where she had led the development of the imaging algorithm.

Environment

And finally – a remarkable person who holds us all to account, who repeatedly reminds us of what science says. You know she’s right when a bunch of angry white men have to take to their keyboards to discredit her – Greta Thunberg

Comfortably Numb

On this day, 40 years ago, Pink Floyd released “The Wall”.

At that time, I was in the first year of 6th form, at that age where you are still trying to find and define your musical identity, which for soem reason mattered more in those days. As someone who’d bene brought up with classical and church music, and who played in orchestras, prog inevitably drew me in.

And then Pink Floyd released this. The ever so worldly upper sixth formers I knew (in what I would now know to call a vertical tutor group), were astonished that the album appeared to be so commercial, and were even more shocked that they managed to get a number one single from it, “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”. Possibly my least favourite song on the entire album, with its “We don’t need no education” refrain.

But the album had absolute gems, and even at first it didn’t seem to compare to Dark Side, or Wish You Were Here, some lyrics just stood out, and stand the test of time.

“Hey You”, with its spiky acoustic guitar, and the sound of fingers sliding across the frets:

Hey you, out there in the cold
Getting lonely, getting old
Can you feel me?
Hey you, standing in the aisles
With itchy feet and fading smiles
Can you feel me?
Hey you, don’t help them to bury the light
Don’t give in without a fight

The despair of “Nobody Home”:

I’ve got a little black book with my poems in.
Got a bag with a toothbrush and a comb in.
When I’m a good dog, they sometimes throw me a bone in
.

Side 4 was never a comfortable listen (yes kids, albums had sides in those days). You had to remind yourself the fascist Pink was part of  a dream sequence, but you know there’s plenty of people around today who would happily say

“There’s one in the spotlight, he don’t look right to me”

Finally, redemption in “Outside the Wall”.

Some hand in hand
And some gathered together in bands.
The bleeding hearts and artists
Make their stand.

And when they’ve given you their all
Some stagger and fall, after all it’s not easy
Banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall

But let’s face it, the top track is the last one in side 3, with two fabulous Dave Gilmour guitar solos. This is from the band’s “reunion” in 2005. Enjoy

“This tweet is unavailable”

The phrase we see on Twitter, when a user has chosen to make their account private, and I confess that these days, this does include me.

For over 10 years I’ve used Twitter – I was a fairly early adopter, and to start with struggled to see what was the point, but very quickly, Twitter became a virtual home, place where I could share ideas about my work, make connections and develop a “personal learning network”. It became the place I plugged my blog articles, where I found some key thinkers on higher education policy and allowed me to identify possible speakers for conferences.

More recently I’ve become less enamoured, let me explain why.

Twitter and HE

There are still plenty of users who provide great insight into HE, and organisations like HEPI and Wonkhe are a reliable guide to the challenges and thinking in the sector. On the downside though, too many individual accounts are now just retweets of that user’s institutional marketing, or a tweet to announce “I’m at this meeting today”, while making sure that the head of department, VC and institutional account are copied in. Even worse is the individual academic account tweeting about a course being, for example, 2nd in England for an aspect of student experience as measured in a league table (not of course, the original NSS data form 2 years previously…). It all gets rather tedious

Edu-twitter

As a qualified teacher, I’m also interested in thoughts of other teachers, and Twitter has been a great sources of support and links to resources as well as current thinking about education. It does get pretty vicious though, especially the ongoing fight between trads and progressives.

Snowflakes

Oh yes, the accusation thrown out to anyone who disagrees with you. Organisations can seem to be pretty snowflakey too – they have a reputation to protect after all, and will make sure that the digital chip-paper that is Twitter never appears to challenge that. I’m sure there was a good reason why there were 5 accounts belonging to employment lawyers (individual and corporate accounts) who were following me. I don’t know the reason, but, reader, I blocked them.

Politics

And now the sewer really deepens. Politics in the UK has become so polarised, and I am sickened just reading the comments. Most worrying is that an increasing number of people cite social media as their source of news. Really? This is scary, but it’s easier to have all your biases confirmed and polarised further than it is to read a decent newspaper.

Ten arguments for deleting your social media accounts right now

This is a great book by Jaron Lanier. He presents 10 reasons for leaving, or at least stepping back from, social media.

Read it, just read it and re-evaluate why you think the way you do.

Conclusions

Am I likely to quit Twitter – nah, not completely, but I’ve been badly burned in the last year by the way some people have chosen to interpret my tweets.

Hence, I might retweet a newspaper article, but I won’t comment much. I rarely make an individual comment on education anymore. I do comment on cycling – that’s uncontentious, although despite being delighted that Bernal won the Tour, I’d have loved to see another team win for once. (Sorry to all the Team Ineos fanboys)

Oh, and I’ll be keeping my account locked as well as maintaining a long list of accounts I’ve blocked, so that I get to decide who can read what I write.

Humiliation

This is a slightly off-topic blog post, the only real link to education, and in particular higher education, is the origin of the parlour game, Humiliation.

This makes its appearance in David Lodge’s campus novel “Changing Places”. Lodge’s character Philip Swallow introduces this to american colleagues at Euphoric State University. The idea is to name a book that you’ve not (but might be expected to have) read. Points are scored for everyone else who has read the book. The humiliation comes from admitting you haven’t read canonical works of literature. In the book, an admission of not having read the text of Hamlet leads to an English academic not getting tenure.

Anyway, as a scientist, I’m expected to be a philistine, and have certainly not read much of what might constitute an undergraduate literature reading list. Last week however, I was settling into that most British of activities, namely reading the Radio Times, the Christmas issue being  the only issue bought in middle class households across the country. Going through the film listings, I realised that I could play Humiliation, using classic movies I’ve not seen, so here’s a list of what I’ve managed to miss or avoid.

  • The Sound of Music
  • Mary Poppins
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Citizen Kane
  • ET
  • Jaws
  • Pretty much all horror films, apart from Psycho, and The Omen

I didn’t see the original Star wars until probably 10 years after it was released. I must have spent too much time reading books.

Learning Lessons from School

Often at this time of year, I write a “review of the year” blog piece, summarising my writing over the year, and what HE and my own university in particular have gone through. That all changes this year – my university and I parted company in March (I think I’m allowed to say that) – so there is little to review from that perspective.

However, it was still a big year in HE – a new Higher Education and Research Act, the first gold silver and bronze TEF awards, and now a consultation on the role of the new OfS.

In all of these, the importance of student experience, and particularly use of metrics to demonstrate how well a university performs is paramount, ostensibly to allow prospective students to make choices, but most likely to allow league table compilers, journalists and others to make (specious?) comparisons.

So, if I can’t write much about my experiences of HE this year, what can I share? Since September I’ve spent most of my time both as a postgraduate student, and learning to teach in secondary school classrooms, and there are three lessons I can take from there that, if I were a subject lead in HE, I’d be considering.

I fully accept that university lecturers and school teachers do different jobs. But if you’re in a teaching intensive post-92 university, chances are that some of what you need to do is not that different from a teacher in a local academy or school.

Lesson One – Assessment and Feedback

Pretty much every university and course gains poor scores in the National Student Survey for this. Learning and Teaching committees agonise over it, develop complicated feedback procedures and guidelines, set minimum times to return marks (15 to 20 days), but wonder why students are still unhappy about feedback.

Maybe it’s because they compare with their school experience. Assessment happens constantly. Formative assessment (peer or self assessed maybe) in nearly every lesson. Personalised verbal and written feedback every couple of weeks. If students take a test, marks and feedback are returned within the week. This is the expectation of students – universities could think about how to develop a transition to enable them to adjust to university approaches, but equally support them in those early, vulnerable weeks.

Lesson two – Learning from Teaching Observation

Peer (or heaven forfend, management) observation of teaching in universities is, at its best, a collaborative experience, sharing good practices and relying on professional approaches to self development. However for many this is based on being observed for possibly one hour a year and maybe observing others for maybe two or three hours.

New lecturers may be observed a little more in their first year as part of any post graduate certificate they are taking.

Contrast this with the school experience. As a trainee teacher I am currently observed teaching for 10 hours a week. Every session that I deliver. And at the end of each session, there is a four page feedback form where I scored against 8 standards, with 3 levels of competence. Advice is provided on what worked well, and what I can do to improve. Targets are set for the next week’s season, and I have to provide my own reflection. Guess what – my teaching improves each week, and I develop new techniques and new ideas from the advice I get. I also go and observe a range of other people whenever I want to.

If we want to make big changes in teaching practice, and expose people to a greater number of great teachers and different ideas, then the annual observation round leaves much to be desired, as does the way in which new lecturers are suppported.

Lesson 3 – Know your Students

It’s well now that a sense of belonging aids student retention and attainment, as evidenced in projects such as the Paul Hamlyn/HEA What Works project, as well as universities’ focus on developing course identity.

I talked to a university undergraduate course leader the other week, with maybe 30-40 students in each year. They said that they did not know the names of all their final year students, let alone the others. In school, I’m expected to know the names – and use them – of all my pupils. So in a class of over 30 11 year olds, I can talk to each of them individually, and know a little about them and their abilities. And importantly, I should be able to do this within a couple of weeks of meeting them.

If this is what pupils are used to in school, it’s maybe not surprising that they don’t feel a sense of belonging when they first come to university.

Conclusion

So what’s to be done?

Firstly, I don’t think universities need to replicate schools: the two sectors have different functions, cultures and behaviours. However, a really hard look at transition to university, again particularly in teaching focussed universities whose students may lack some of the cultural capital to thrive instantly, could provide a way of maximising student engagement and attainment.

Seriously, why not send your teaching staff to spend two weeks in a secondary school, shadowing a teacher, and seeing what the school experience is these days – and then reflect on this to see if you could develop your first semester, in terms of formative assessment, teaching practice and sense of belonging to really help your students.

BME Attainment 2015-16

I’ve written on this blog many times before on the challenge of differential attainment in universities. Full disclosure – I no longer work in the sector, I’m white, middle class and educated at what is now a Russell Group university. This could be relevant,  it may contextualise my  opinions.

According to the recent report from Universities UK “Patterns and trends in UK higher education 2017“, then once again we can see data on degree attainment split into a crude ethnicity breakdown of “white”, and “BME”. the supplementary data provided add “other and don’t know”.

Plotting the data shows:

while the figures provided are:

showing that the attainment gap between white and BME students stubbornly remains at about 15% when we consider “good degrees” to be a 1st or 2(i).

Equally telling however, is the wide differential in numbers of first awarded to different groups, and the fact that BME students are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to be awarded a third.

Clearly, a lower degree classification affects life chances in terms of potential graduate employment.

UUK highlight that

“Although part of this gap will be due to differences in entry qualifications, prior attainment and subjects taken across the two groups, HEFCE has noted that for UK-domiciled, first degree graduates at English higher education institutions, even when these factors are considered, there is still a significant gap between the proportions of white and BME students obtaining a first or upper second class degree. Further HEFCE research has also identified potential explanatory factors for this difference, which include curricula and learning (including teaching and assessment practices), relationships between staff and students, social, cultural and economic capital, and psychosocial and identity factors.”

Data and evidence have long been available to show that for given entry characteristics, BME students are less likely to obtain a good degree classification than their counterparts, so we should be asking where we have to look to understand why our universities do not appear to be operating as the progressive liberal meritocracies they claim to be.

Kalwant Bhopal in “Addressing racial inequalities in higher education:
equity, inclusion and social justice” explores how  inequalities in access to elite universities continue to exist for those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and suggests that gaining a place at an elite university is related to access to social and cultural capital. Referencing  “The Diversity Bargain: And Other Dilemmas of Race, Admissions and Meritocracy at Elite Universities” ,by Natasha K. Warikoo, Professor Bhopal identifies themes that, for me, have resonance with Reni Eddo Lodge’s recent book “Why I am no longer talking to white people about race“.

Immediately striking from a reading of these two works is the critique of meritocracy that we have clung to. Once we recognise the impact of power, then as Bhopal writes “It can be argued that the concept of meritocracy as one that is used to reproduce and legitimise class privilege or indeed a system that enables those already in positions of power to maintain their elite position and ensure that it is passed down from one generation to the next.”

Reni Eddo Lodge defines what she calls structural racism: “This is what structural racism looks like. It is not about personal prejudice, but the collective effect of bias. it is the kind of racism that has the power to drastically impact people’s life chances. Highly educated, high earning white men are very likely to be landlords, bosses, CEOs, head teachers or university vice chancellors”. She places this definition firmly in a reading of British history, and again shows that belief in the meritocracy satisfies those who currently benefit from it.

Bhopal states:

“Universities must listen to and address the challenges that black and minority ethnic students face in higher education. There is ample evidence to suggest that black and minority ethnic students’ experience disadvantages at different stages; from admissions, their experience, whilst at university and in the class of degree they are awarded. However, few universities have policies and strategies in place to address these disadvantages. Universities must address the racism that takes place in their institutions which exists as part of the social structure of their organizations, and move away from a deficit focus which blames individuals rather than examining the institutional racism that forms part of the structures of higher education.”

Bhopal proposes mandatory unconscious bias training for staff in universities as well as identifying the need to develop social and cultural capital in good schools prior to university.

I think there are other questions to be asked, and suggest the following

Unconscious bias training is a good start, but I have heard it described by Gurnam Singh of Coventry University that a limitation is that “it shows you’re a little bit racist, but that’s ok because it’s unconscious”. Unconscious bias assessment and training is just one step on a journey – it’s what you do next with that knowledge so how is this followed up?.

Also (and from a data nerd you know this is coming) the HESA datasets can be mined to provide much more information. Institutions can identify how they perform individually against this national average – by definition, some will perform better and some worse) and combine with their own internal data. Does this tell you anything about differential outcomes by discipline, by department? In fact, are you even aware of how students of different ethnicity are distributed across your university, as they are almost certainly not evenly distributed?

A further issue is the feeling of belonging, and the right to belong. If as Bhopal states universities “maintain their status by representing themselves as white and middle class, spaces reserved for those who are just like them”, then it would be useful to explore the extent to which staffing (particularly academic, professional and management) reflects the make up of the student body. If all your lecturers are white and middle class, then this might be sending a strong signal about who university is for. Once again, the HESA data can be used to look at staff profiles, and it would be an interesting exercise to look for any correlation between staffing profile, student profile and degree outcomes.

Finally, what happens on graduation day? Let’s say you have a department where 50% or more of your students are from a BME background. What did the academic procession look like, especially the senior staff? Similarly, of the recipients of honorary degrees, how many of them are from the same background and are representative and aspirational role models for your students?

I know I don’t have the answers, I’m just hoping to add some more questions to help understand, and to shine a light on areas where changes could be made.

ADDENDUM

Only moments after publishing this, my attention was drawn to a new publication on the Wonkhe website, which provides the HESA data on degree attainment, and the gaps, by institution. You might want to wander over there and read Nona Buckley-Irvine’s piece “Universities’ shame – unpicking the black attainment gap“.

 

Latest Employment Performance Indicators

This week HESA released their latest data on performance indicators for UK institutions in terns of employment, essentially the outcome of the DLHE survey for those students who graduated in 2016.

Many will look at these with increasing interest – after all this is one of the indicators used in TEF, and so anyone who might be thinking or re-applying will look closely to see if changes here put them in a potentially better place.

Equally, this data will feed through onto next year’s league tables, so again university management teams will be calculating to see if this helps them climb the greasy pole of rankings.

From HESA’s page

The proportion of full-time first degree graduates in employment and/or further study continues to show a steady rise….This year has seen a slight fall in the proportion moving into employment only, with there being a rise in the percentage going into further study.

What is interesting is to see how institutions performed against their benchmark, and also to see who has changed significantly over the last year.

Looking at the tables, most institutions are close to their benchmark, and few are flagged as having a significant difference. However, there are those who are significantly below (indicated as -) and those significantly above (+) benchmark. Looking at the gap between indicator and benchmark, and also looking at performance in the previous year, we can try to see if these are institutions where employment is either always, good, always poor, or has changed significantly in the two survey years.

Playing with the data from HESA then for employment of full time students, we can see that some unis or colleges repeatedly miss their benchmark, for instance, UCB, Bolton.

Equally, Coventry, University of Arts Bournemouth, DMU, UWL and Wolverhampton repeatedly exceed their benchmark for employment, while Staffordshire shows a big jump, from being under benchmark last year, to being significantly above this year.

With the change to Graduate Outcomes instead of institutionally managed DLHE in future, one of the key variables – the localised interpretation of the survey methodology – will be removed, and we may see some realignment of data.

The continued rise of numbers going into employment and further study, overall is to be welcomed, but maybe with two caveats. This data does not show the numbers going into graduate roles. Secondly, we have to remember that employment is only one outcome of studying for a degree.

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on TEF

It’s been almost a week since TEF results were made public, and some of the predictable coverage, posturing, and agonising have occurred. Here are a few of my thoughts.

The importance of the written submission

In advance, we were all told that the written submission mattered, but at the same time, that the initial hypothesis that would be based purely on metrics was felt to be the factor that would determine classification. Looking at the result then plenty of universities have been awarded a TEF rating higher than their initial metrics would suggest. (This is personally pleasing since I wrote a significant amount of my previous employer’s submisison). The commentary provided by the TEF panel on each submission makes it clear that a written submission that demonstrated that an institution understood why it it missed benchmarks, could explain this in terms of contextual data, and show that activity was taking place to remediate the situation, then the higher award was possible.

The press didn’t understand what was being measured.

In advance of publication I was asked on Twitter whether anyone outside the sector was going to be interested in the results. Inevitably those papers who have a vested interest (by publishing their own university guides) or who have a reputation for being a TEF booster ( I’m looking at you here, The Times), were always going to publish something.

We inevitably saw articles reminding us that Southampton, LSE and Liverpool of the Russell Group had not performed as expected, and this this showed the shake up in the sector. Equally, there was criticism that the expected ranking or established order was not being replicated.

Any paper that publishes its own league table is going to be concerned if another form of ranking does not tally with their figures. But this is to misunderstand what TEF is – it’s about measures against benchmarks, not absolute performance, hence the difficulty for some unis in scoring above already high benchmarks, and for the press to create a simple story from a more complex narrative.

Universities love to celebrate

There was plenty of gold across those who felt they’d done well! This despite the rumblings and complaints in advance that the idea of three levels of ranking, like medals, was reductive and couldn’t possibly communicate the complexity of what a university does

How much does it matter to the sector?

TEF clearly matters to those in the sector, and will have implications for behaviours in the future. Universities already work hard to make sure that they optimise their data returns to HESA, that they get good scores in NSS by promoting and managing survey completion, and getting good scores on DLHE by managing those returns.

In future, these activities might drive performance management behaviours in universities even more than at present, with possible unforeseen consequences – courses and subject areas that perform poorly on a key metric may not longer be considered as viable, especially while TEF continues to be at institutional level.

For planning departments, then we can expect to see ever more sophisticated models of academic portfolio performance, and increased scrutiny of data returns.

((From the Modern Toss Work postcard set: http://ow.ly/hFV530cT60U )

The impact on fees has been temporarily removed, and with possible changes to funding in future (let’s face it, HE funding is back on the agenda after the recent General Election), then TEF as an instrument of marketisation through differential fees loses its power.

How much does it matter to the press?

For those in the press, TEF might just be a way to get easy headlines about perceived poor performance of established universities, while expressing shock at the performance of some FE colleges.

For the specialist press, commentariat and twitterati, TEF is a gift – something for the wonks to pore over and luxuriate in, in that quiet period at the end of an academic year.

How much does it matter to the punters?

For parents and potential students, TEF is just one more set of information to use, and has to be added to existing marketing collateral, multiple league tables, and guidance from schools and colleges. Without a clear explanation of what i being measured (particularly the issue of relative performance rather than absolute) then it’s not a straightforward measure, but just one more to add to the mix. Coupled with the Guardian University Guide concept of “value added” then it’s hardly surprising that potential students aren’t always clear about what might be on offer.

Finally, TEF may just be ignored if it does not provide the confirmation bias that people often use on making these kind of decisions. For example, I have a son who wants to study History in a year’s time. Both Staffordshire and Durham scored Silver. But I’m only going to recommend one of those.

You can bet though, that universities will shout about their TEF outcome (provided it was good) at this summer’s open days.

A New Home

My previous blog has now been migrated to this site (actually this has been a mirror site for quite a long time, but never used beyond that).

It’s time to start writing new content, and building up stats again – but just to show how much the old blog was read, here’s a peek at the final usage stats:

 

And that “best ever” – that was on the day I wrote about the Guardian University Guide in 2014. In fact most of the high traffic posts have been about league tables, although one of the latest posts on “Does UK HE have a Retention Problem” has been pretty popular.

Does UK HE have a retention problem?

Last night I attended an event at King’s College London, hosted by UPP Foundation and Wonkhe, looking at retention issues in UK higher education. The format was a series of initial thoughts from each of 5 panel members, followed by a lively discussion, showing the importance of this topic.

wonkheupp

Richard Brabner

Richard introduced this as the second of three workshops on student journey. He pointed out that  HESA stats on  non-continuation show that this is getting worse, and especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. he reminded the audience that in light of this Les Ebdon of OFFA expects next access agreements to focus on retention.

Liz Thomas

Liz stared by explaining that UK figures for retention are in fact much better than most European countries. In those countries with free tuition, then there was a feeling that getting students out of the system was part of the quality system. In awold domintae dby fees and student loans, then this attitude cannot prevail. We admit students to our courses and so we have obligation to help them succeed. So we do have an issue around student success and retention, in particular around differential levels of success, retention and  plus employment outcomes when we consider BME, WP and other factors.

From the HEA/Paul Hamlyn What Works  project it was clear that learning and teaching is critical to student success and retention by building a sense of belonging in the academic sphere. This goes beyond curriculum, but is about the whole institution recognising that it needs to make students successful, and needs to consider role and contribution of all staff.

Sorana Viera

Sorana of the NUS believes that the UK HE does have a retention problem for some groups of students and suggested that an unforeseen consequence of TEF is that game-playing to satisfy the metrics could exacerbate the situation.  The NUS view was that the rushed nature of TEF potentially leaves dangerous holes. Since the key metrics that universities can impact is non continuation then all eyes should be on retention.
Universities should  invest more in those supporting activities that are evidence based, and Soranna cited the What Works project as an example of this. If evidence is presented in accessible ways, then NUS will champion it.

In particular, the impact for commuting students was raised – these are students with financial pressures, family and work commitments, who may have chosen to study at a local university which may not be the right university for them.

Alex Proudfoot

Alex showed that some of the issues for alternative providers are quite different. Students are much more likely to be from a  BME background, or be aged over 30, so these providers are dealing with very different cohorts of students.

A focus for alternative providers was on delivering courses that focus on employability by creating industry links and ultimately an industry community within the college where staff and students might collaborate on projects outside of class.

In terms of pathways and transitions into HE, students who go through the same provider from level 2 and 3 have better retention at HE levels.

For students with low entry qualifications, then classes on study skills are a compulsory part of curriculum, rather than be in an additional optional choice for the student

Ross Renton
Ross highlighted the huge differences in retention and success based on ethnicity. he emphasised the need to develop an understanding who is joining your university or couerse, and developing a relationship with them before they arrive or join the course.

At Hertfordshire they had previously targeted POLAR quintile 1&2 students on entry, and provided peer mentoring plus other additional activity,tailored to each student. Retention figures improved by 43% for these students, and DLHE shows better rate of graduate employment. This intensive personalisation works but is expensive

Ross also highlighted the fact that problems need to be owned by everyone – it’s not a matter of sending a student off to some student hub, but all academic staff need to take ownership. There is also a need to systemise personal tutoring, so that key and meaningful conversations take place at the right times for all students, including at all transition periods, long holidays etc.

In the future Ross saw some risk in being overly focused on the use of metrics and analytics – this is still about people working with people.

Panel Q&A

Key points in the Q&A session were around:

  • How do we support hourly paid lecturers- not delivering HE on the cheap, but supporting the right staff properly
  • The current retention metrics don’t allow for students to step out of HE with interim quals in a flexible framework
  • Staff also need to feel that they belong, so need to consider institutional culture.
    How do you support students through whole institution approach.
  • How can we build success in L&T including retention and success into reward and recognition for staff?
  • How do we making the campus more “sticky” for students living at home? The research on commuting students suggests that these students feel the campus is not for them and they feel marginalised and invisible. Details in prospectus will cover accommodation but not local travel. Universities were often not set up to  support these students, expecting them to be in 4-5 days a week.
  • Tax burden for those who drop out but have student debt – ethics and who should pay? 1 yr of study should be seen as a success
  • Can we use analytics to create better informed interventions as otherwise it is difficult to personalise in mass system without good real time information.

Takeaways

Certain key factors stand out:

  • The need to look carefully at differential retention and success, and to ensure that TEF does not drive perverse behaviours
  • The opportunities to use better analytics to personalise student support
  • The need for rigorous and meaningful personal tutor systems
  • A pressing need to understand how a sticky campus can support commuting students and meeting their specific needs.