Newman University student Daniel, shares his views on the importance of focusing on foundation year experiences.

“Starting at University can be a very new experience for some individuals and a daunting one indeed for some students that shift from secondary school or further education (FE) into higher education (HE) that is ‘conceived as linear progression through a number of phases’ (Gale and Parker, 2012) ; that focuses on pre-transition; transition; orientation or induction; the importance of a foundation year; middle years and final year experiences that ultimately aids not only personal development, but how we settle into University life and transition successfully both before and upon completion of a degree and also how we grow as individuals; at the heart of the changing face of Universities.

Students now desire much more than a simple in-and-out-degree; instead studies now show that students require social integration (from both fellow students and staff) as just one of the important factors among a huge range of other factors (Gale and Parker, 2012). These other factors, with students needs in mind, include but are not limited to; use of social spaces; professional engagement (includes participation in academic, pastoral and professional development services); impactful interventions; supportive peer relations; meaningful interactions (with students and staff); developing confidence and an identity and last but not least a HE experience that is relevant to current interests and future goals (Thomas, 2012).

Within FE and especially HE, a sense of belonging is crucial to students’ needs and ultimately is what retains a student through the first few weeks/year one as ‘belonging recognises students’ subjective feelings of connectedness to an institution’ (Vallerand, 1997, P.80) and this benefits students relating, to the extent, that they may be; supported; valued; included; accepted and  respected in the social environment of the institution (Goodenow, 1993, P.80). The characterization of ‘belonging’ by regular contact and personal relationships offer stability, demonstrate effective concern and are all ongoing ideals that students’ value (Beaumeister and Leary, 1995; in Goodenow, 1993).

In the end, developing personal relationships and indeed approaches towards belonging are quintessential in the success of student retention in a culture capital institution(s) and habitus of structural and systematic problems that are embedded in the way some institutions function and treat their students as ‘consumers and numbers’- as opposed to individuals with specific and different needs to others. With the ‘consumer’ mind-set and the course fees that had drastically risen in 2012 and again in 2013; students now demand ‘value for money’ which includes all of the above and includes what a University has to offer a student-not what a student can offer University. This, then, makes it harder for a student to fully participate or engage and integrate socially which not only affects their retention during ‘phases’ but also affects current and future success as ‘access without support is not opportunity’ (Tinto, 2008). Thus, institutions who recruit students have put into place a strategy to further support students to be successful in their journey.

The Office for Students (OFS) has asked of most UK institutions that they meet attainment gaps and retain students from different domestic backgrounds that include but are not limited to; mature students with multi-different needs and WP students (or BAME for Newman). Furthermore, by paying very close attention to the many different ways that students integrate, behave or perform in social and academic standings can be actively monitored through a range of different engagement tasks and techniques and for staff to intervene if necessary that is critical to student retention, success and belonging. This type of engagement within HE develops relationships and promotes connectedness. (Thomas, 2012).

It has been established through study that people with a lower desire to belong may be satisfied with little-to-no-contact, while others with a greater desire to belong require more connections and further social interaction with many individuals from wider groups within the institution. All of this research points to ways institutions can further close the retention gap and ultimately make positive change that does matter to students needs while making use of existing spaces.”

From talking to students and from undertaking focus groups and questionnaires, we are happy that the majority of our students here at Newman University do feel a sense of belonging and as though they are a part of a community and are not just another number.

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