Theme 3: Progression
What does it cover?
- Progression from each academic year to the next and/or between academic levels
- Progression to time out on placement and back in
- Progression back through breaks in study
- Progression and transition to life beyond university
Principles of good practice
3.1 Universities support students to prepare for the multiple, ongoing transitions they encounter during their university career, e.g. between years/ levels of study.
3.2 Universities provide targeted support for students on placement and on professional programmes, who may require more in–depth preparation and specific interventions.
3.3 Universities provide adequate support for students taking breaks in study and proactively support their transition back into education.
3.4 Universities support students to prepare for life, career and further study beyond graduation.
3.5 Universities ensure that support for these transitions is structurally embedded into curriculum and university practice.
Why is this theme important and what matters?
While much attention has been paid to the transition into university, it is becoming increasingly evident that the experience of students is not one defined by a transition into the institution, followed by stability. Rather, it is one of multiple, ongoing transitions that continue from induction through to graduation and beyond, into the workplace or further study (1 – 3). For many students, mental health, wellbeing and positive engagement with their programme may dip in the years after first year (4 – 6).
Participants in the Charter consultations identified progression from year to year, placements, study abroad and the transition beyond university as areas which they believed impacted on the mental health of some students and therefore required attention from universities.
There is evidence in the literature that university interventions that aim to better prepare students for these transitions can have a positive impact (6 – 8).
Students’ experiences of second year have been a focus of attention in the US for some years and are gaining increasing attention in the UK (2, 9, 10). This research highlights what is termed ‘the sophomore slump,’ in recognition that many students (although by no means all) experience a reduction in motivation, engagement and enjoyment of their course in the second year. Some students appear to experience increased academic anxiety and less self–efficacy (9, 11).
Second year students face a range of additional challenges, including an expectation to undertake increased independent learning and the fact that, for many, the second year counts towards final degree classification (12). There is also a perceived reduction in support from the first year and many move into private accommodation, away from the supported living arrangements provided by halls of residence (13, 14). None of these factors should necessarily present a risk to mental health and wellbeing, and they can offer opportunities for growth and development. However, these changes may lead to an increased risk of poor mental health if students are unprepared, lack requisite skills and strategies, feel unsupported and don’t have the internal and external resources required to respond effectively.
For these reasons, universities should take a more structured approach to preparing students for progression between years and levels of study, using re–inductions at each stage (2, 13, 15). Providing effective and relevant scaffolding within the curriculum and between year to year can also provide students with the opportunity to develop the skills, resources and understanding needed for the next phase of study and student life (2). This equally applies to students going on placement, particularly those on programmes related to health and social care. Professional placements of this kind can place pressure on student mental health due to the nature of the issues to which they are exposed (such as safeguarding issues or patient death), as well as isolation, reduced access to support, financial difficulties, workload and burn out (16, 17).
In addition to these planned transitions, some students will also experience unplanned transitions – such as breaks of study due to illness. Evidence indicates that maintaining contact with the university and receiving ongoing support during such a break can better support students to make a successful return to university (18).
There is significantly less evidence in relation to the mental health and wellbeing of final year students. Charter consultation participants highlighted the negative impact of workload and the perceived pressure many students experience to get good degree classifications. Others highlighted the impact of the end of university, when students may effectively be changing occupation (or losing their occupation with no alternative yet in place), moving accommodation, losing their friendship network and experiencing long term financial uncertainty. This was seen to contribute to an existential uncertainty and loss of identity and structure. Indeed, graduate wellbeing has been shown to be adversely affected by poor preparation for the workplace and life outside university (19).
It is for these reasons that some authors have begun to call for universities to do more to prepare students for the transition out of university (20, 21). ‘Outduction,’ as it is termed (2, 20, 21), suggests that universities should take specific steps to support students to be ready for this change and to be able to enter the next phase of their life positively.
Research from the Charter consultation – E. Cage, E. Jones, G. Ryan, G. Hughes & L. Spanner (2021) Student mental health and transitions into, through and out of university: student and staff perspectives
Higher Education Academy – Supporting student success: strategies for institutional change
Website – Improving the Student Experience
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|20. Reino, V. & Byrom, N. (2017). Graduate Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace. Oxford: Student Minds|
|21. Layer, G. (2005) The Final Year Experience keynote address at the Course Directors’ Conference. Kingston University January.|
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