Inside Track | Access and student success progress

“Perhaps the greatest shift has been creating more space for us to see and understand students beyond a single demographic label or identity.”

Louise Banahene June 2019

Eighteen months on from the launch of our Access and Student Success Strategy, we’re on course to meet 12 of our 14 targets. 

Our targets, which are also incorporated into our institutional Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), set out how we will reduce – and eventually eliminate – inequity at all levels of study, from undergraduate through to PhD, as well as across our staff community.

Louise Banahene, Director of Educational Engagement, reflects on what we’ve learnt so far and outlines what still needs to be done to meet our aims and objectives. 

Understanding the context

Firstly, there’s no single ‘cookie cutter model’ to uniformly apply across this institution to diversify the cohort and enhance student success. Instead, what’s required is an in-depth comprehension of the data, feedback from students and co-creation to understand how we can ensure students feel they are seen, respected and valued. 

Relevant research to deepen understanding and draw on lived experience has been a great example of this. Student Research Experience Placements have been running for three years, and provide opportunities for students to lead on research to advance understanding of access and student success. Their work has informed change across the institution and facilitated space for students – primarily from marginalised communities – to deepen their experience of carrying out research. 

Learning alongside others has been important. This has included collaborating on sharing good practice, such as the recent Researching, Advancing and Inspiring Student Engagement (RAISE) conference

Creating space for leadership

The Access and Student Success strategy is a whole institution endeavour. Roles to lead on identifying areas for change in faculties and schools have been integral in identifying barriers and facilitating change. 

At undergraduate level, roles such as belonging academic leads have worked on our approach to measuring belonging and wellbeing among our students, as part of our institutional KPIs. Student Success leads have developed approaches to maximising progression between years, including implementation of the assessment strategy and methods for following up with students who may be at risk of dropping out. At postgraduate level, we’ve developed new models for outreach and scholarships to enhance diversity among our postgraduate cohort. 

We understand the importance of the knowledge and expertise of staff and students right across the institution in making progress on access and student success. The Student Success Forum is one of the spaces that has enabled staff and students to come together to think about areas for change, and what it means for their local context and circles of influence. It’s influenced Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) fellowships and supported implementation of work on areas such as incorporating inclusivity into teaching and learning practices.

Culture change

Perhaps the greatest shift has been creating more space for us to see and understand students beyond a single demographic label or identity. It has been important to challenge our collective and individual pre-conceptions, to go beyond the trends seen in data and amplify student voices. 

Reverse mentoring has run during the past couple of years and will return this academic year. It pairs students from marginalised communities as mentors to senior leaders as mentees. They meet over a period of weeks, giving students the opportunity to share their perspective of life at the University and leaders the chance to hear about their lived experience.

Staff mentees involved in this project reported that, following their reverse mentoring experience, they had a better understanding of the challenges faced by under-represented students. Similarly, student mentors said they have more confidence in staff members understanding the impact of background and experience.

Our students have led our approach to implementing the Access and Student Success priorities, including work to decolonise our education and research. Outputs have included a student-led decolonising education conference and guides to decolonise subject areas. Student Research Experience Placement students have also supported with the work on understanding the colonial history of the University.

Leeds University Union (LUU) has been an important partner across all this work, including in helping address cost of living issues. It’s an important and ongoing topic, and we intend to build on existing models, including for financial support and to enable participation in clubs and societies.

Next steps

There’s more to do and our focus during the next 18 months is progression between years. That’s eliminating the barriers to access at all undergraduate and postgraduate levels and between years of study. Two of our strategies – Assessment plus Opportunities and Futures – are crucial to this. We’ll be looking across all aspects of the student experience and will need your expertise and insight – alongside helping amplify the voices of our students – to achieve this. 

We also know how important it is to have space to listen, reflect and discuss. Our next Student Success Forum is on 17 October, when the focus will be on equity and inclusion across teaching, learning and assessment. Sign up to the Student Success Forum mailing list for further information or to join.

Our next Belonging and Success Research Group is on 15 November. The cross-disciplinary event is an excellent opportunity for staff and students to share their research. You can also sign up via the LITE website.

It’s collaboration and partnership across staff and students, disciplines and services, that has got us to this point, and we’ll need to maintain this collective responsibility. I’m confident we can continue to make great strides, learning together and enhancing the experience and outcomes for all our students.

Further reading

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