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8 Nov 2019

Student Success Symposium: Developing Our National Understanding of Student Success

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In this blog, Eve Cobain, AONTAS Research Officer reflects on the Student Success Symposium

 

On 24th October the Higher Education Authority (HEA), in partnership with the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Leaning, hosted a Student Success Symposium at the Morrison Hotel, Dublin. The event saw the launch of two reports on student success in higher education and was attended by students, staff, senior managers and policy makers from across the sector.

On 24 October the Higher Education Authority (HEA), in partnership with the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Leaning, hosted a Student Success Symposium at the Morrison Hotel, Dublin. The event saw the launch of two reports on student success in higher education and was attended by students, staff, senior managers and policy makers from across the sector.
 

The HEA invited AONTAS to attend the Symposium along with four adult learners who had participated in FET, and had progressed or were progressing to Higher Education. These learners were Louise Mitchell (DETB), Margaret Burke (CDETB), Jack McMahon (KETB), and Nancy Poyton (Women's Community Projects). Learners were joined by Leah Dowdall, Head of Research, and Eve Cobain, Research Officer.

AONTAS was pleased to support this work since we believe a truly successful Higher Education model will facilitate supported progression pathways from FET to HE and that all student voice perspectives in HE should include input from learners who come from the community education and FET sector. Eve Cobain reports on the event below. 

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of State for Higher Education, provided the Symposium’s opening address, describing the centrality of learner voice to any discussion around Higher Education. In a call to action, the Minister explained that she believed everyone in Higher Education, including herself, could be doing more to support student success. She also thanked a number of organisations, including AONTAS, for supporting this work.

In launching two new reports, Dr Terry Maguire and Lee O’Farrell – from the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning – outlined recent policy developments and research related to student success, discussing key enablers such as teaching, community, health and wellness. In relation to the Higher Education Student Consultation of 2018, Dr Maguire described a variety of areas, from the student perspective, on which decisions makers could concentrate their energies – this included community, supports and facilities. Students were also asked to define what being successful in education meant to them. Some student responses included “growing as a person” and “contributing to society.” Throughout the session, it emerged that a broader set of indicators of student success and satisfaction needed to be considered by higher education institutions. Success was found to be “too nuanced to be encapsulated in terms of completion/non-completion.”

The event also marked the launch of two reports by StudentSurvey.ie, as well as their overall rebrand. In describing this rebrand, staff explained their intention to “amplify student voice”, displaying a range of emojis – such as their signature megaphone – that would speak to students in a fresh and compelling way, and ultimately promote the audibility of student voice.

A highlight of the day was the USI panel of six higher education learners from a variety of backgrounds. Learners from the panel emphasised the need for mental health supports and inclusion of students from minority groups. The panel also highlighted the many intellectual and social benefits of participating in their courses and emphasised the need for staff to support and help to foster a strong sense of student community, which was critical to a sense of “belonging” in Higher Education. Learners described how their confidence had improved though their educational journey and spoke about many other personal benefits of taking their courses.

Louise Mitchell, who attended the event with AONTAS, described these “student success stories” as a source of “hope and encouragement … I have taken a lot from hearing the students talk about their journeys”, she noted, “and I know this will only help improve and better further education and training.” 

All who attended the event had the opportunity, in the afternoon, to contribute to the development of a national understanding of student success through group discussion. These discussions were led by student facilitators and centred on the question of what needed to be in place for students to meet their goals and have a satisfying experience in Higher Education.

Group participants were asked to reflect individually and collectively on what they could do to support student success – whether student, teacher or administrator – jotting down three ideas on card before feeding this back to the group. Groups then came up with key ingredients for student success. Key words from AONTAS’ group included “empathy”, “champion” and “inclusion”. The table discussed the burden of responsibility for all those involved in delivering HE and emphasised the difference that the individual could make to the student experience. Learners at the table echoed the need for a strong community that was emphasised in panel discussions. Moreover, learners who had participated in FET and community education described the many positive experiences they enjoyed through their courses, and explained how there were many ways in which Higher Education could learn from FET.

Learners who attended the event with AONTAS described it as enjoyable and thought-provoking. For Louise Mitchell, one of the main takeaways was a sense that “we are not alone. There are so many people out there that are fighting our corner to help us achieve our goals and who understand that there are so many different factors to consider when returning to education, no matter what path you choose … The HEA really brought this to light in the last event. I have high hopes that progression will continue … I maybe wasn't fully aware that there were as many people or organisations involved in making student success a reality and I for one am grateful for the tireless work that is put into implementing the best possible outcome for all students.”

To find out more about the research work of AONTAS contact Eve Cobain, Research Officer: ecobain@aontas.com