Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
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.
This kind of project could easily be adapted for first year students in other faculties.