It seems an age ago now, even if it has only been a week since we returned from our celebrations in fancy London town for the Times Higher Education Awards. We didn’t win, but what an honour to have made the shortlist for our Level Up Transition Mentoring programme in the category of Outstanding Support for Leadership Development?
The evening represented a great moment of pride for me and the team, and as we sat immersed in the buzz of the excitement of the event, I took a quiet moment to take stock and acknowledge the diverse roles played by our Birmingham City University team. Comprising of senior managers, academics, support staff and of our wonderful students themselves, our team consisted of students and staff of our School of Media, as the innovators and initiators of the Level Up programme. With Professor Philip Thickett heading up the team, as our Head of the School of Media and originator of the support programme idea, Neil Hollins as the current Level Up programme lead, Jamie Morris our out-going School of Media Student Success Adviser and our wonderful students Dani Campion and Charlotte Gough (no relation, but I’d adopt her any day!) as representatives of the 2014-15 Level Up team.
We were joined by Professor David Roberts as the Associate Dean of Arts, Design and Media, who has supported the parallel delivery of a transition mentoring programme within the School of English and has extended warm and on-going support for the Level Up design principles across the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media. However, the Level Up programme would not have been possible without the unwavering support and guidance offered by our Centre for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT). Professor Stuart Brand, recently crowned King of Student Engagement by our Level Up Mentors team, has represented a key enabler in the design process and delivery of our transition mentoring programme, Luke Millard, who mentored our design team throughout the process and Marisa Parker as our smooth and efficient senior administrator. And of course, me, the staff partner of the original design and delivery team, working alongside our students to design a programme of activities that would aid in delivering our institutional priorities, while ensuring that these were activities that our students would want to engage with.
Taking stock, it is amazing to see just exactly how much we have been able to achieve with the support of our wider Level Up team which has consisted of students and staff from across the institution. However, it is our participation in the Higher Education Academy‘s What Works Change Programme that afforded us the time, space and support to deliver across the breadth of that ambition.
Delivering a transition mentoring programme that was aligned with the findings of the What Works programme whose key findings suggested that for student retention interventions to be successful, those should be firmly embedded within the academic environment (Thomas, 2012). While our own students had been particularly concerned to ensure that any design for student support should cross both the academic and social sides of university life. This is something that was encouraged and as a part of the What Works guidance delivered and experienced at the What Works conference (York, 2012) in order to achieve a much stronger sense of social and community cohesion.
The joint Level Up design process offered a mutually beneficial understanding of the needs of both our students as they arrive, but also of our institutional administrative induction processes. In our shared design planning, we each gained a respectful understanding of one another’s needs, and together we were able to create a system and process for all involved. This shared sense of ownership meant that we were all heavily invested from the start and observing the celebrations across the evening, it became evident that the shared sense of community that we strived to achieve across our institution was in full flow across the evening celebrations of the Times Higher Education Awards. A worthy nomination if ever there was, as I watched the new guard of institutional leaders, our student mentors, inspiring colleagues from other institutions with their infectious enthusiasm for partnership practices in their role as change-makers for achieving shared institutional goals.
Looking at the jovial exchange and frivolity occurring around our table at the Times Higher Education Awards, it was evident that not only had we achieved our ambitions through an 8% increase in student retention, but that we had gone a long way towards breaking down imperceptible barriers as senior management, academics, administrators and students shared in a celebration of partnership working through which we had all gone on to become great friends and we had a lot of fun in the process.
Read more about our Level Up programme here.