Universities are stepping up efforts to support the education and wellbeing of Year 13s transitioning to higher education this autumn amid growing concerns from teachers and parents that school and college leavers will be disadvantaged academically by the disruption caused by Covid-19.

A new collection of case studies – published today (9 Jun) by Universities UK – showcases some of the support offered by universities across the UK to equip new undergraduates with the skills they need to thrive ahead of and during their studies, and how universities are helping them adjust to university life.

Schemes range from resources to aid academic preparation to boost study skills and to address lost learning with allocated tutors and online modules, to mental health and wellbeing support from student ambassadors to reassure and welcome new starters.

Universities are confident the wide-ranging support on offer will ensure that Year 13 students who are about to begin their degrees are not disadvantaged by the disruptive challenges they have faced throughout the pandemic.

Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, President, Universities UK, said:

"Universities recognise the challenges that Year 13 students have faced over the past 15 months and as a sector we are stepping up the support we are offering to all those starting a degree this autumn. Applicants can expect more guidance from their university, with many initiatives taking place over the summer months.

"The whole education sector shares a common aim which is to ensure students emerge from the pandemic fully supported to succeed. We hope that our initiatives will enable students starting university in the UK this autumn to have a safe, happy, and smooth transition to higher education."

The University of Sheffield has developed an interactive study skills resource 'Level Up Your Skills' for all new undergraduate students to support their transition into undergraduate level study. The resource supports students to:

  • develop the skills and confidence to make a positive start on their course
  • reflect on their personal strengths, gaps and challenges
  • set skills-related goals for the academic year and work towards them
  • apply their academic skills to learning and assessment on their course

Students can access this before they arrive at university up until week 12 of their course. Students can choose to record their progress and work towards an Academic Skills Certificate for recognition of their skills development.

The University of Cambridge has developed a STEM Start course to support students' preparedness for higher education. It reassures students and supports confidence building by revising school materials. Before the course starts, students are also provided with GCSE and A level revision materials via the Isaac Physics platform. The online course lasts for four weeks, with nine hours of learning per week. A 16-month programme is being planned to support Year 12 widening participation students from January 2022 through to examination results in 2023. This will be a pilot for physical science and engineering students, supported by the School of Physical Sciences and delivered through Isaac Physics (Funded by the Department for Education England and The Ogden Trust).

The University of Leicester has been supporting new students through its HeadStart campaign since February 2021. The campaign includes a digital readiness module, live and on demand sessions with student created content such as cooking demonstrations, Netflix ‘watch-alongs’ and quiz nights. There are also sessions for parents to help them understand how they can support their child in the run up to starting university.

Students receive weekly emails confirming the live activity taking place during that week. A supportive letter from the vice-chancellor has also been sent to provide additional reassurances to students and their parents. 

The University of Sussex has developed new workshops with their first-year students to explore the challenges that they faced at Sussex and in local colleges early on in the transition to university and how to deal with those challenges. The Situate workshops will run for the second time in September 2021 for new students, focusing on topics including:

  • health and wellbeing
  • social pressure
  • pressure
  • academic pressure

The workshops will be delivered by second- and third-year student Mental Health Ambassadors and will provide time, space and peer support in looking after mental health at university, as well as supporting students in finding help and extra support should they need it

Wrexham Glyndwr University has created a free 'Confident Learner' online course for anyone considering undergraduate study. The course is designed to increase confidence in studying for those who are starting university for the first time, those returning to study after a period away, or considering a professional or part-time course. The course is four weeks long, with five hours of learning per week and an assessment on the sixth week. There are multiple start dates up to 5 July 2021.

The course will enable learners to:

  • research and find information from a range of sources
  • improve their presentation skills
  • prepare for a higher level of study
  • improve and enhance their digital skills
  • build their confidence to achieve their potential

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