P14 – Balancing education and campus experience for the local student: Making Fresher’s Week Relevant to All

Presentation
Dance room – TUESDAY 16:15-17:15

Lorraine Gearing

Vice Chancellor’s Office, Coventry University

I have an interest in widening participation, in particular, first generation learners who remain in the family home whilst they study, with past responsibilities for outreach activities and increasing aspirations. I have more recently led the development of education and assessment strategies at my university.

Summary:

As an institution there is a need to approach fresher’s week with an understanding of cohort demographics, so that we provide a balance that acknowledges the local student. Many of these students separate their studies from their ‘undergraduate life’ and universities need to address their different transition needs.

Abstract:

Widening participation and spiralling living costs have meant that increasing numbers of students study at their local university. The phrase ‘Freshers Week’ immediately conjures up an image among students entering higher education in the UK. The image and tradition are usually centred on non-academic activities including the student union, clubs and societies and social events. The background for these activities is to assist students in settling into a new way of life away from their home environment. Do these activities have relevance for the student who continues to live in the family home and is familiar with the locale? Christie calls these the ‘day student’ (Christie et al 2005) although places them within the widening participation arena as does Elliot (2009) in a study that focuses on the need for local provision based upon economic and other factors. We are concerned with attrition rates during the first term, but we may overlook the ‘first impression’ that is given during orientation as a contributory factor. Many studies have been done concerning the ‘early-walker’ (Bennett et al, 2007) however the focus on many of these has been the socio-economic or ethnic group.

This study looks at the value and benefit of orientation activities as perceived by students in their first week and discusses the wider implications of a positive or negative experience on successful completion of the first year of study.

Beginning with a paradigm shift of what constitutes support and who needs support, a range of strategies can be put into place to enable every student to become a confident and autonomous learner, irrespective of academic ability (see Lees 2010, Cook & Lowe 2003).

Before any of these worthwhile structures are put into place, the academic team has already made its first impression during fresher’s week. The purpose of this study was to investigate student first impressions and engagement with fresher’s week activities to enable the team to plan a more effective induction programme. Using demographic data that shows the proportion of students who will be living in the family home, can then align activities at a programme level to maximise attendance.

Initial results of a comparative study of fresher’s week attendance between two groups suggested that there is a need re-brand the objective of fresher’s week. Group A recruited a high proportion of students living in the family home and Group B recruited nationally. Engagement with fresher’s week activities was 26% for Group A, compared with 49% for Group B.

Lorraine

Group C were students returning for the second year. These students are typically provided with a shorter induction programme across three days. Although the attendance was comparable to year one students, the perception of the value of activities was significantly higher. Though further research is needed, the focus on modules, subject and requirements for the next level is far higher than for first year students. Their activities contain a far higher proportion of social and extra-curricula and these results indicate that we have to be very clear on the objective of fresher’s week and it is not just to wander round, do a quiz and join a club.

There is a value in the provision of a well-organised Fresher’s that orientates students into both the course and the university. An increasingly higher proportion of students will be local and living in the family home, which should effect a change in the way that fresher’s activities are conducted to bring these student into the university culture and help them make the transitional to higher education.

References:

Bennett, R, Kottasz, R and Nocciolino, J(2007) ‘Catching the early walker: an examination of potential antecedents of rapid student exit from business-related undergraduate degree programmes in a post-1992 university’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 31: 2, 109 — 132

Christi, H., Munro, M., Wager, F (2005), ‘Day Students’ in Higher Education: widening access students and successful transitions to university life, International Studies in Sociology of Education, 15:1

Elliot, D and Brna, Pl(2009) ”I cannot study far from home’: non-traditional learners’participation in degree education’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 33: 2, 105 — 117

Leese, M (2010) ‘Bridging the gap: supporting student transitions into higher education’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 34: 2, 239 — 251

Lowe, H and Cook, A(2003) ‘Mind the Gap: Are students prepared for higher education?’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 27: 1, 53 — 76

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