As the University of Strathclyde endeavours to be a place of useful learning for students from all backgrounds, the needs of an increasingly diverse student body must be taken into consideration. It is no longer enough to widen access at the point of entry. As a socially progressive university, Strathclyde must ensure an equitable student experience where all students are supported to achieve their potential.
The transition in to university is notoriously fraught for many students. With over six hundred and fifty first year students on the Humanities and Social Sciences BA programme it is difficult to provide bespoke support for the individual and problems can occur when you are one of a cohort of this size in creating networks and developing friendship groups. With an increasing percentage of students from groups previously underrepresented in higher education, support is important to ensure the removal of barriers.
Organised as a pilot project, a group of three first year students volunteered to organise and manage a new support service run by first year students for first year students from October 2016. While their motivations differed - one student had struggled with her transition into another university which led to her leave her first course, another understood the anxiety that some students experience and was keen to do something to minimise this, and the third student was keen to be involved in new personal development opportunities – they were all keen to provide a service that would be useful to their peers.
The students named their group HaSS Unite and developed three aims:
- To support students to make new friends.
- To help students overcome issues they may face in the first year.
- To provide a space for students to share their experiences.
HaSS Unite ran every Wednesday afternoon from October in session 2016-17. While the group had a named member of staff overseeing their work, this person acted as a facilitator rather than a participant, allowing students to develop the group in a way that suited the students for whom it was designed. Using the open area on Level 2 of the Lord Hope Building in semester one, the students provided tea and coffee to anyone who came along to see them. While numbers attending were small, the students were able to point their peers to a range of support provided by the university. In semester two, the group found that the Wednesday afternoon one-to-one sessions were no longer necessary: many students had a better understanding of university processes and had developed their own networks of support. HaSS Unite adapted their support to organise a study skills session, a Microsoft workshop and a child protection presentation for their peers to ensure time was being used effectively.
- HaSS Unite has created a model for student support that will be sustained in 2017-18. The original students will organise HaSS Unite to run from induction week and will recruit new first year students to take over from them in October.
- The University Disability Service will recommend HaSS Unite as an added layer of support for students using their services in 2017-18.
- HaSS Unite is now affiliated with USSA.
- Students who attended HaSS Unite felt they could share problems and issues openly with their peers. Two students credit the support received from the group with their successful integration into first year.
- Practical challenges like where to store the tea making facilities and how students might access water had to be overcome.
- Very small numbers of students used the support of this group in 2016-17. It is suggested that this is because the group was established too late in the semester when many students had already found their own support systems.
- To ensure the support is in place from September this year, HaSS Unite will participate in the BA induction week which all six hundred and fifty BA students attend.
- Students are capable of creating sustainable models for peer support and adapting content to best support their peers as they are more closely involved with the first year student experience.
Suggestions for Transferability
This kind of project could easily be adapted for first year students in other faculties.