The University of Stirling already had a number of activities related to ‘Transitions’ including recent evidence-based strategic papers on ‘Induction’, ‘Students at risk’ and ‘Internationalisation’. The University had also recently revised its Graduate Attributes and implemented a ’Transforming the Student Experience’ project, both of which are highly relevant to transition work. Student transition had therefore already been identified as a priority within the university and the opportunity to develop and integrate this work was timely and fully aligns with institutional priorities. This theme directly addresses a key priority area for enhancement within the institution and provides a framework to take these aspects of the student experience forward.
Summary of Activities and Developments
To take this work forward we have an ‘Institutional Transitions Group’ with representation from across the University, including service areas, academic staff and students. This group met on three occasions and also had an ‘away day’. The aim of the away day was to facilitate discussion on the broader concepts emerging from our work and enhance collaboration on project work. Halfway through the year, when it became apparent that operational and administrative issues often had to be dealt quickly, we formed a ‘Transitions Steering Group’. This has been successful in supporting the work of the group.
In this first year, five ‘Transition’ projects have been initiated (details in initial planning document). These were designed to focus on different aspects of the student journey, and also to capture some of the diversity of student experience. The projects are focusing on -
- Initial transition into the first year of study (undergraduate and postgraduate)
- Transition within integrated degree (2+2) programmes
- Transition into, and out of, international contexts
- Transition into 3rd/4th Honours years
- Transition into workplaces
A number of additional activities have also taken place including
- A QAA visit to discuss and support University of Stirling plans
- A student-led inaugural conference at the University of Stirling- ’Accessing Higher Education: A Conference for Non-Traditional Students’ (May 2015). This conference was initiated and designed by students, and delivered in partnership with staff and external organisations. A presentation on this conference was delivered at the QAA International Enhancements Themes Conference and a motion was adopted at the NUS conference to take this forward as an annual event. The University of Stirling will be hosting this event next year.
- A ‘QET’ website for the University of Stirling focusing on Transition activities. This is due for launch in September 2015.
- A keynote presentation (What works? Facilitating an effective transition into and through HE, Professor Liz Thomas, Liz) at the University of Stirling Learning and Teaching conference (May 2015).
- An Institutional call for a number of one year (SELF) projects to complement the work already taking place and embed the transition theme into Schools. Fourteen bids have been submitted and are now under review.
- Staff attended the Edinburgh ‘Gearing up for Transitions’ Conference (March 2015) and the QAA 12th Enhancement Themes Conference (June 2015). At the latte there were two staff presentations and two student presentations.
- The Theme Leader attended TLG meetings and we had student representation on the TLG.
- Development of two new surveys (undergraduate and postgraduate, first disseminated September 2014) which focus on recruitment, pre-entry information and induction. Actions from these are to be taken forward by the relevant working groups.
There have also been a number of practical ‘transition’ activities which have emerged this year. Examples of these include (but are not limited to):
- A conference on ‘University Entry’, facilitated by University Stirling staff and aimed at FE staff, with an emphasis on preparation for university
- Student focus groups investigating academic transitions into 1st and 3rd year. From this a number of short animated resources to support these transitions are in development.
- We have held a dedicated ‘2+2’ ‘study skills’ day to explore issues around making the transition directly into 3rd year. Evaluation of this day indicated that it was very much appreciated by the students but that there is still much to be done. Discussion are now ongoing as to how we may best work with 2+2 students.
- ‘Leave of Absence’ has been identified as a difficult transition point, and a short-term working group will be reviewing support for this period.
- A proposal to develop pro-active ‘skills framework’ which would prepare students for each transition through HE. This would include expectations, academic literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, employability and reference to graduate attributes.
What we have learned about student transitions from our work this year.
Staff are motivated to engage with the ‘Transitions’ theme and we recognise they are many competing demands. Maintaining a high profile and encouraging engagement with the theme work will be a key factor for next year.
There is already a lot of excellent work in the University. We need to be more systematic about ‘capturing’ this and disseminating it.
The ‘student journey’ from pre-entry through to graduation (drawing on work from Key Transitions, University of Manchester, 2007) has provided a convenient framework to initially integrate and link our projects but now further consideration is needed as to how
we take this forward. The idea of different types of inter-related transitions (e.g. geographic, personal, cultural, social, academic (e.g. Whittaker, 2008) has also been useful in framing our initial work but we feel that we need to work towards a model/framework which can encapsulate some of the complexity of transition processes.
We were already aware of the complexity of the student experience (e.g. from our recent ‘Students at Risk’ project) and our project work is addressing many of the challenges we had already identified (e.g. experience of care-leavers, international students, advanced entry students). Our work to date has confirmed that the experience of transition, adaptation and change does not take place just at the start or end of an academic year. Individual student journeys are complex with multiple transitions and a number of entry and exit points. From work at our away day it was suggested that the whole university experience is ‘transition’ - a transition from multiple ‘ways of being’ or ‘ multiple identities’, to other ways of being and changing identities, and that the outcome of transition is transformation. ‘Transition’ is therefore one way of framing the work that we do in HE and being able to manage change is a key theme.
It has also become apparent that although we can describe and analyse the many forms of transition and the multiple entry and exit points, in the longer term these lines of enquiry may not be so useful. Looking at specific issue or particular students or contexts provides us with information about ‘the now’ but may not provide us with the resources we need in the longer term. The individual experience of transition is complex, there are multiple transitions and the nature of transitions will change through time (e.g. we will be accepting CfE students soon whose experience of transition may be different from the students we have now). Therefore, in order that this work has impact for all students, all transitions and is fit for future purposes, we will need to draw upon our current projects to develop overarching frameworks, principles and recommendations which will equip staff and student with the necessary resources to tackle any transition. The longer-term value in our project work will therefore be in drawing together the data and using this to inform the development of a broad range of tools, contexts and recommendations which facilitate transition for all. One obvious way forward is to focus on developing skills and attributes for managing change which can be adapted to the context. The challenge is then to retain sight of the individual experience whilst facilitating the transitional processes of many.
In team and project discussions about transition, a number of key themes have emerged.
Those associated with the students include:
- Students being able to recognising change and positively respond to it
- Students being reflective and resilient
- Informed decision-making
- Being pro-active and engaged
- Identity (and the recognition that students can have multiple identities, and being a student may not feature strongly)
- Peer mentoring and support are important
- Developing academic skills is an important consideration
- Integrating the development of all skills and awareness of Graduate Attributes across all years
- Confidence versus competence
- Being equipped for transition to the workplace
Those associated with the institution include
- The focus being on preparation not remediation
- The need to develop community
- Providing clear, realistic information and orientation
- Managing assessment and feedback processes
- Longitudinal induction
- Managing expectations and being prepared
- The necessity to embed integrated ’skills’ development in the curriculum, ‘just in time’ and across the years.
- Inclusion of RPG in transition work
- Staff training and the need for resources (e.g. toolkits) to support students making transitions). Support in the forms of clear policies’ and guidelines.