Posted on Thursday, 18 April 2013 at 1pm
by Lifelong Learning Centre Staff.
Just before Easter, I attended a conference on learning development in Plymouth, held by the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE). The focus was on supporting and retaining students through study skills, peer support schemes, awareness of diversity and through curriculum-based approaches.
I found it uplifting to find so many study skills specialists and academic teaching staff gathered in one place, talking about ways of supporting students, wanting them to succeed, and taking it for granted that this was a good thing. It did cause me to pause and reflect upon how far the sector had come in 20 years. I recalled many occasions when I heard the phrase ‘sink or swim’ used in the past – implying that if students weren’t able to achieve without some support and guidance, then university wasn’t for them. It struck me that it was many years, thankfully, since I had last heard this said.
It also made me reflect upon the Lifelong Learning Centre’s (LLC’s) own culture and ethos – and just how many LLC staff contribute in one way or another to the development of students’ academic development – from pre-entry tasters and study days, to Jumpstart and Kickstart schemes, through to foundation programmes, in-depth diagnostic work and follow up, individual and group sessions, support from tutors, as well as the relevant modules within the curriculum. That doesn’t even cover it all! It is a far cry from the limited support available to students in the past – and rightly so.
It wasn’t just practitioners at the conference who raised the importance of the academic development to student retention and achievement. Les Ebdon (Director of OFFA, the Office for Fair Access) mentioned in his keynote speech, that OFFA and HEFCE intend to bring their widening participation strategies closer, with an increased emphasis on student retention and equality and diversity. He noted the work, historically, of learning developers in advancing the widening participation (WP) agenda. Maybe the links between academic support, WP, retention and equality will become raised more often and more explicitly, nationally, in future years.