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 The main aim of this project was to understand and co-develop successful support approaches and mechanisms for students making transition into their first year of study in Higher Education, by direct entry into second year from Further Education colleges. Specifically this project focussed on Engineering Academy students making their transition into year 2 of an engineering degree at the University of Strathclyde from a network of Further Education colleges.

Two engineering student interns carried out the study in collaboration with key academic and engineering academy staff.  The  The student interns, who had just completed second and third year respectively, had both taken non-traditional access routes to studying engineering at the University of Strathclyde. One through the engineering academy route whilst the other came to first year engineering  through a  further engineering through a further education college HNC route.  

Initially, the study focussed on capturing  capturing the current experience of Engineering Academy students, specifically:

  • Interaction with University during HNC study
  • social Social and academic integration
  • CV and employer engagement
  • Departmental practices
  • Summer schools
  • Student union groups and societies
  • Library and on-line services
  • Social media

Opportunities for improvement were then explored, specifically :

  • Interaction with University during HNC study
  • Induction to University
  • Managing expectation and informing choices
  • Social and academic integration
  • Mentoring including peer mentoring
  • Student event
  • Summer schools

In order to fully understand the Engineering Academy student transition experience and develop appropriate support mechanisms the following approach methodology was adopted:

  • a A literature review
  • survey Survey of Engineering Academy students
  • interviews Interviews with EA staff
  • case Case studies  from other institutions
  • library Library and on-line services
  • social media
  • Social media

A full research report is available below.

This work was supported by Enhancement Theme funding from the QAA.


Faculty of Engineering

Contact Details

Dr Andrew McLaren

Dr Philip Sayer

Dr Avril Thomson


Student Transitions


As a new programme the engineering academy concentrates on adapting students from HNC and preparing them to advance straight into (Higher Education) HE, and dealing with both the social and mental expectations of obtaining a degree. Literature clearly identifies challenges, barriers and success factors for transition from Higher to Further education. However, there is a limited body of research which reports on the discipline of engineering.  ApproximatelyApproximately,   80 students per annum will be entering year 2 of an engineering degree  degree at Strathclyde through the Engineering Academy. The motivation of this study is to understand their experience particularly highlighting , and in particular to highlight strengths and potential areas for improvement.   It is also hoped that transferable lessons can be learnt across the university since these students represent a large proportion of the students entering Strathclyde through non-traditional routes. 


The main outputs from the project are:

  • Clear A clear picture of the current experience of Engineering Academy students transition from Further Education to Higher Education, based on the qualtrics survey.
  • Recommendations for improving the transition experience

The main recommendations are listed below (full details can be found in the research report available to download at the bottom of the page). Recommendations are presented in the form of the different transitions that Engineering Academy students make  make: “Working through an HNC”, “Arriving at university” and “Getting started”


For the students working through their HNC there must be a clear understanding of what their aims are and what is expected of them. It is important for students to feel a part of Strathclyde to reduce anxiety and  and misinformation. One of the largest contributing factors for an unsuccessful transition relates to the lack of preparation for and understanding of what University involves (Gamache, 2002), and ill-informed preconceptions about what they will encounter (James, 2011). To avoid this issue the University must ensure students receive the same basic information and at the same time, requiring a coordinated approach across the Engineering Academy (EA).

HNC staged emails

There are certain tasks that all the EA students must complete before they can successfully be enrolled into 2nd Years Engineering. Every student has to register online, collect their student cards, attend their induction day, and receive their timetables. Students do expect information immediately, especially through any online methods of enquiry. Even though it is impossible for the departments to answer every question straight away, the use of such staged emails is to cancel down the amount of confusion and uncertainty through their HNC.


A department induction is crucial for the students arriving to have a full understanding  understanding of the years ahead of them. It should outline the departments’ course structure, opportunities of switching from BEng to MEng to allow students a good grasp of what is available to them. Also the induction should include careers prospects and graduate career information and a further look at any available scholarship information.


HNC-Engineering Academy Activities

According to the case study of Wingate (2007) previous work, inductions before entry can be an innovative way to provide additional support and build good relationships. Relating to Whittaker’s focus on pre-entry support, the The gaps in transition can be better utilised to provide clarity of expectations, build confidence and motivation and allow students to integrate. This process is most effective if it starts before proceeding into university (Thomas et al, 2005) such as HNC student entering a whole new environment for them in 2nd Year University.


While being at college the students will be linked with an EA buddy/mentor - an EA student from University. This would work better with a 3rd or 4th year EA student who is more settled down in class and able to give sound advice and help. Mentors should be trained.

Peer matching (Aston University) could provide a better peer link for the mentoring programme, e.g. matching a mature student studying on the HNC with a mature student at University, this could help regarding communications and empathy, ensuring a better link between the peers. This would also include comparing each student from diverse backgrounds with a buddy with a similar path. This would help encourage students showing that those from similar backgrounds are able to proceed with University.


It will be effective for students to experience classes and lectures that they will experience at University. From evidence received from informal interviews and from the 2015 EA survey many students found Maths incredibly difficult due to a large gap in academic difference from college to University. Taking first year university  university maths classes while at college studying for their HNC will allow this gap to be closed and provide useful insights into what studying at university is like.

Along with the idea of a class, an introduction into formal report writing could resolve the issue that report writing doesn’t seem to feature much at college. The omission of this skill can hinder the progress of the EA student.   A class(es) on the university campus  campus for college students which develops  these skills would be beneficial.


Students who have completed their HNC and have succeeded to the 2nd Year of the EA will join the rest of Strathclyde in their chosen degree. Remembering that the rest of the students have successfully had a 1st Year buffer in the academic and social transition, the students may struggle in adjusting to university. Remaining aware of the students’ needs, alongside the resources of departments and staff, it is recognised that the induction for the EA students is very much departmentalised. As such, it is impossible to recommend a strict, one-size-for-all model. Therefore we recommend the creation of the induction checklist, separate for students and staff, that would highlight certain activities The induction checklist provided below aims to cover the following areas: Student  preparation and skills;   Academic Academic Integration;  Social Social Integration;   Communication Communication of services available. 

  • Email Students With Induction information, Communications and Checklist
  • Update staff knowledge on Support services
  • Introduce students to IT facilities/ services – Myplace.
  • Ensure PDAs engage with students.
  • Introduce Students to Support Services.
  • Host a Campus tour
  • Host Library tour
  • Discuss aims and objectives of programme to study.
  • Host social integration Events for Students/Staff.
  • Host group activities for Students. Set Up Engaging And Useful Induction Task For Students.
  • Promote Current Excellence Or Achievement In Department, Aspirational Achievements.
  • Stage Daily Emails in Week 1 to Stress Importance of Checking Email.
  • Introduce PDP Development And Interaction.
  • Create Achievable Task To Complete For Week 1 And Upload To Myplace.
  • Promotion of Careers and End of University Opportunities.
  • Advice on Volunteering and Placements, Plus Any Scholarship Available.
  • Encouragement to ask for help in Tutorials. Ensure students know to ask for help.
  • Discuss with students referencing and plagiarism.
  • Discuss advice on Study Skills.
  • Discuss Health & Safety regulations- Laboratory/studio-based.
  • Notify students of Network Log-in code.


All students should be given a package explaining all of the support services (The new Student Experience Service booklet would be appropriate). Support Services should be labelled clearly, detailing exactly what they do and who to talk to about certain issues.  There There is an unnecessary level of bureaucracy within the University that both students and staff struggle to navigate.  Students Students and staff  need to know who to talk to, but the survey and interviews revealed that this is not always the case.


There were some difficulties engaging responses from Engineering Academy students during the summer months. One possible reason for this is that Engineering Academy students undertake an industrial placement over the summer. 


This project  project focussed on the first cohort of Engineering Academy students i.e. students finishing  finishing their first year of study in Higher Education (Engineering Year 2 about to enter Year 3). In total this was 42 students. A further 80 students came to Strathclyde through the Engineering Academy in session 2015/16.

Suggestions for Transferability

This The outputs from this work could be applicable to other students entering year 2 of a Higher Education from Further Education. In the first instance within Strathclyde across other faculties. 

Student involvement

The summer internship consists consisted of Paul Kirkland, a 4th year student (Electrical and Mechanical Engineering) (who transitioned from college into 1st year) and Charlotte S.Moran (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) an Engineering Academy student after completing 2nd year. Bringing The intention was to bring together both personal experiences and research of student transitions from FE to HE