What Works at Birmingham City University: End of an Era?

Reviewing our recent What Works report submission to the Higher Education Academy fills me with some sadness as I reflect upon our activity across the last three years, particularly as our contribution to Phase 2 of the What Works programme comes to an end. It has been quite a ride!

Level Up Handover

Handing Over the Level Up Mantle to Neil Hollins, current Level Up programme leader

However, when I look at all that we have achieved since our first adventure with a group of student experience focused staff and students at the HEA What Works conference back in York 2012, we have got an awful lot out of our participation and a lot to show for our efforts. With our student friendly approach to pre-induction we offer a comprehensive pre-entry student mentoring programme, academic benchmarking and development support, social integration opportunities, personal tutoring and welfare support that is integrated within the academic environment, exciting student-led course-relevant inductions activities, embedded academic support opportunities, as well as the development of a graduate student success adviser role to act as the supporting role for these activities.

As a truly partnership-engineered vision for student support and engagement, our institutional support offered up a free creative vision which allowed us to select and choose from the case studies being presented in order that we could create a support system and mechanism for student retention that would work for our own unique students at Birmingham City University, but perhaps most importantly that would be an attractive option that would be used by our students. In this respect, our student partners were our most valuable asset as they assessed not only the merits of the support systems being promoted by the Phase 1 participating institutions, but as they evaluated which of these approaches would be most beneficial to our own students.

The ideas harvest that resulted in the creative assembly of what went on to become our Level Up programme represented a shared institutional effort to employ partnership working to achieve joint institutional success. Its co-design is perhaps where we garnered the greatest success. In designing administrative processes that met our institutional needs for early induction, systematic time-efficient enrolments, early timetable production and enhanced personalised tuition through an embedded personal tutoring system and academic support programme, this streamlining of our administrative processes meant that more effective support measures could be put in place when our students needed it most.

While Birmingham City University’s participation in Phase 2 of the What Works programme may have come to an end, it is both pleasing and reassuring to see that the process lives on. The beauty of Birmingham City University’s participation in the What Works programme has been the creative freedom that we were afforded at the ground level. Through working in close partnership with academics, administrative staff and our students, we have been in the enviable position of delivering upon our shared institutional principles in a way that allows for the simultaneously scaleable and nuanced delivery against broad institutional principles.

The HEA What Works programme may have concluded but Birmingham City University has gone on to deliver its own change programme. As our Associate Deans and Senior Managers from across the university have come to recognise the benefits brought to both the student experience and to the administrative streamlining of our induction and integrative practices, an on-going interest has seen the organic development of our own change programme. Led by Prof Stuart Brand and Luke Millard, Birmingham City University now has its own change programme in operation where other schools and degree pathways have since joined in order to develop their own approaches to student retention and support. Learning from the existing successes experienced in Media, English, the Built Environment and Radiography, our university has gone on to develop a nuanced approach to personalised and individualised student support. Following the broad ambitions and guidance offered by the What Works programme, our ongoing institutional approach has allowed for a need-specific development at the school and faculty level. This flexibility has meant that individual schools have been able to develop an approach that is of immediate relevance to the participating schools. This approach has meant that those brought into the process are able to build a programme of support that is of immediate relevance to their own students.

While Birmingham City University may have reached the end of an era in its immediate involvement in the HEA What Works programme, those principles and patterns of development will continue to reverberate across our institutions as the ripples of change are felt across Birmingham City University as we employ these principles in support of the delivery of our Strategic Plan 2020. The HEA What Works programme may have come to an end for us, but it still works and our ongoing investment in the change academy practice stands testament to that.

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