Inside Track – Professor Tom Ward: Welcome and Induction

Research across higher education shows how big a role a sense of belonging and the development of academic identity and relationships play in the lives of students.


Right now, we are all finding new ways to maintain that sense of community online, and I am hugely grateful to everyone who has responded to the unique challenges of the coronavirus pandemic with such skill, speed and goodwill.

We will get through this, and when we do, some focused attention on early community-building will be one of the priority areas.

Non-continuation and progression are influenced by social and relational factors, and early on in the experience of university the sense of belonging eclipses other factors. In this Inside Track, I want to raise awareness of some excellent activities aimed at supporting and spreading best practice in these important areas:

  • LITE fellows Ruth Payne (LCS) and Andrew Mearman (Economics) have been leading the ELIXIR (Exploring the Links between Induction, eXIt and Retention) project;
  • Bridgette Bewick’s LITE project on Pedagogical wellbeing;
  • the resources produced by the International Students Office Feeling at Home in Leeds and its intercultural awareness workshops, led by Jenna Isherwood and Katy Manns;
  • many schools have been working with LUU and student representatives to reframe how they handle the first few weeks at university – an interesting example is LCS, where the SES team and the academic lead for induction are creating a completely new approach to Welcome Week by removing all programme induction meetings from Week 0 and replacing them with a range of ice-breaker socialising events and catered sessions to welcome our new students;
  • a regular institutional Student Success forum, bringing together staff and students to share and embed good practice;
  • work led by Student Success Project Managers (Katie Peyton-Lister, Sarah Hearfield and Dan Bond) and Student Success Officers in each faculty, to implement the Student Success framework;
  • Resources and best practice on factors influencing student success, including welcome and induction led by Nina Wardleworth, Student Success Academic Lead; and
  • the educational themes of Student Success, led by Paul Taylor, Chris Warrington, Chloé Elliot (LUU Equality and Diversity Officer) and Lauren Huxley (LUU Union Affairs Officer), and Community, led by Anne Tallontire, Jenny Hamlin and Cat Fairbairn (LUU Community Officer).

Clearly each student is an individual with their own particular stages on the journey to success in Higher Education, but some of the common themes include the following:

'Welcome', and the importance of a settling-in period to create the right environment. Information about things like academic skills can be signposted and accessed online when the student is ready for that, but the critical social and relationship steps early on will help to create the sense of belonging as a University of Leeds student and a member of a school or division.

'Induction' in the traditional sense of equipping a new student with the information they need to be a student here takes on a different flavour in light of the central importance of the social and relational aspects of the student journey. Information can be delivered both earlier – before arrival, for example – and later – after 'Welcome', for example – and via online methods. 

Students consistently report being overwhelmed with information early on, and they are unlikely to take in the complexities of academic integrity, assessment regulations, or even core academic notions, such as independent learning, when they feel like this. This is particularly felt by students from under-represented groups, where there are gaps in student success outcomes, such as non-continuation, compared to their peers.

For a student who feels a strong sense of belonging, has built strong relationships and is socially firmly part of the community, it is easy to absorb factual information. However, if a student has not built those strong relationships, then no amount of information will help them succeed at university.

The implications of the fact that new students are undergoing a process of transformation needs to be embedded in all practice, and the complex processes of 'Welcome' and 'Induction' require co-ordination, partnership and oversight, with Personal Tutoring playing a particularly important role.

Ultimately, we aim to establish consistent research-informed baseline practice, with additional nuanced development for different individuals or groups of students.

Professor Tom Ward

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Education 

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