Get ready for a new cohort of students
Every September Welcome Weeks begin in Higher Education institutions across the country, so in preparation each year we wanted to share our thoughts on how student support services may need to adapt to a very different cohort of students.
The undergraduate students heading into university this year are unlike any generation before them, none of their predecessors have experienced such a dramatic disruption to their education journey as they have. From virtual classes to predicted grades and the impact on university acceptance, the past 2 years of education have been nothing but unusual.
With many aspects of life returning to their pre-pandemic ‘normality’, it’s important to consider how student behaviours, expectations and support needs might not.
But what does the incoming student cohort mean for Higher Education providers? What might you expect, and how can you be better prepared to welcome this uniquely distinct intake of learners?
- Students may be better versed in highlighting inappropriate behaviours, but are they confident in speaking up?
- Social and academic pressures combined have the power to exacerbate student mental health, how are your services prepared?
- Clearing numbers are at their highest point, what might this say about the sense of belonging felt by some students?
Students may be better versed in highlighting inappropriate behaviours, but are they confident in speaking up for help?
The socio-political context over the past 2 years has been both pronounced and poignant. We’ve experienced prominent conversations on refugeeism, public health, women’s rights, racial equity in all contexts, gender based violence, mental health and much more.
The thread that has run through each of these events has been the need and power of speaking up about justice and experiences of injustice.
What we’re yet to see is a corresponding uplift in the culture of reporting at an institutional level. Discussion on problematic behaviours and cultures have grown in popularity in the social sphere, but will this have a lasting impact on the likelihood of students speaking up to their institutions and seeking support?
This culture may need to be encouraged, and the focus in doing this should be on action. Seeing positive action can help to create a sense of trust that in turn can encourage reporting. Your students might not need as many lessons in identifying harmful behaviours as in previous years (though this doesn’t undermine the need for education), but what they might need are consistent and clear reminders of reporting pathways.
Social and academic pressures combined have the power to exacerbate student mental health, how are your services prepared?
Going to university is always a big deal. It can be some of the most exciting and daunting moments of your life all at the same time. This year it will come with some additional pressure; operating in large social and academic circles again, consistent face to face learning and social interactions, a period of missed open days causing many students to arrive at university unprepared for their new environment.
Having spent much of their further education lifecycle bonding with peers virtually, the reality of in-person socialising and learning could be quite a shock to many undergraduates joining this year. Whether it’s through sheer overwhelm, or experiences that directly threaten student safety and wellbeing, the response to these scenarios should be planned, considered and flexible to the needs and request of the student.
Clearing numbers are at their highest point, what might this say about the sense of belonging felt by some students?
Following a record high in A-level predictions as a result of potentially optimistic assessments from teachers nationwide, A-Level results day saw a high number of students left disappointed after not having made their entry requirements to their chosen universities.
With that, 53,000 students went through clearing this year, a 36% increase from last year, and the highest number reached in the past 10 years.
Research conducted by Pearson indicated a startling rate of students experiencing ‘impostor syndrome’ at university during the pandemic. The intersections between feelings of belonging, happiness and mental health were stark, and acted as a reminder that all of these are intrinsically linked.
It would be advisable for student support staff to anticipate greater numbers of students requiring support dealing with these emotions and any linked behaviours.
Using your reporting pathways to give students an outlet for these feelings and support needs is key.
Many of our partners have shown that opening up your reporting channels to accept multiple forms of harassment, discrimination, or support needs can have a positive impact on reporting rates.
Whilst it’s important not to lose sight of the objectives and use cases for these channels, having flexibility in what you allow students to speak up about can positively correlate to the level of trust and confidence that students have to speak up about other areas of concern.
As students begin to enter the doors of your institution, remember that their support needs may not be what you’re expecting. The main thing you can look to do is remain flexible in your approach. Where it’s appropriate to do so, take the lead from students in understanding and responding to their needs; a lot of the language around victim support is being created by younger generations, their voice in implementing it is essential.