Widening Participation and Student Support
Supporting Students to Improve Retention
The Attraction, Support and Retention Project
Connexions: a bridge for Widening Participation
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The University Foundation Year: a Work in Progress
For about ten years, the Faculty of Science and Engineering ran a very successful Foundation Stage. In response to the University's strategy for widening participation, planning began in August 2000 for a more extensive programme which would build on the strengths of the Faculty Foundation Stage. The University Foundation Year welcomed its first students in September 2001 after a year of intensive development. It is a year zero programme offering a route into University for those who do not have traditional entry requirements, and offers links to more than 120 different degrees across the University. Successful completion of the Foundation Year guarantees a student a place on their chosen degree at Manchester Metropolitan University. The Foundation Year links to degrees in 30 Departments and six Faculties and a wide range of subject areas including:
The Foundation Year is a key part of the University's strategy as we move towards the Government's target of giving 50% of the 18 to 30 age group the opportunity to participate in Higher Education. To achieve his target, we have to raise attainment and participation among young people from groups which are currently under represented in HE. The Foundation Year programme contains a generic core of key skills and study skills as well as fulfilling the academic requirements of each of the subject disciplines involved. The target recruitment for 2001/02 was 300 students, but there were so many good applicants that 550 students joined the programme in September 2001. With this intake, we've exceeded our original targets in terms of attracting students from groups identified by the government as being key targets for widening participation.
400 of the current cohort are studying in Manchester, with 50 at Crewe+Alsager and 100 in our partner institutions: the City College Manchester, Hopwood Hall, MANCAT and North Trafford College. The Foundation Year is validated by MMU on a franchise basis in these partner institutions. Students get exactly the same funding as for any other undergraduate programme.
The problems of undergraduate retention and progression have given a real focus to the course planning, with a wide range of pre-course counselling and on-course guidance being offered (see the article by Pauline Hearn in this issue for more details). All prospective students are offered interviews, and all students have an initial induction interview with a personal tutor. There is a weekly drop-in centre to help with diverse problems. The students follow an accredited course in key skills, which encourages them to improve their study and communication skills, as well as starting to think about career planning. Thirty students benefited from the online mentoring scheme described in Mark Kent's article in this issue. Many students are also using online learning materials in Maths, Chemistry and Humanities.
The project team monitor cohort data relating to recruitment, retention and progression in terms of ethnic origin, socio-economic background, gender, age etc, as well as the usual evaluation via questionnaire of student feedback on the course, particularly on new initiatives like the mentoring scheme.
Where are we going next?
A good start has been made: all the project aims and objectives to date have been met. Monitoring and evaluation will now be crucial as the project works to strengthen and extend its partnerships. Two more Colleges will be offering the foundation year on a franchise basis from September 2002: Ridge Danyers Sixth Form College and West Cheshire College. The student support and guidance pilots will be refined and rolled out more widely, and the core materials will be further enhanced and developed. Efforts to attract students from the target groups, to extend outreach work and to improve publicity materials will continue.
It would be possible for more courses to be linked to the Foundation Year. This requires a commitment from departments to provide student support and to liaise with the project team over admissions. The team will continue to talk to course teams about the opportunities offered by the Foundation Year.
Most importantly, the work of the project must be securely embedded within the institution. Widening participation is no longer a fringe activity but a central focus for HE and FE providers across all subject areas.
There will be a staff symposium at the Chancellor's Conference Centre in April 2002, open to all staff involved in the programme. If you are interested in attending, please let us know.
For more information, please contact Karen Moore on extension 3588, or at email@example.com
Karen Moore, Director of the University Foundation Programme and Widening Participation Special Project Manager