Students will benefit from more joined-up support from their universities thanks to the creation of the first ever student support champion the government has announced.
Higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan has appointed Edward Peck CBE, who is vice-chancellor and president of Nottingham Trent University, to the new role, which has been established to help universities make sure students complete their studies and have access to extra help if they need it.
The appointment comes following the disruption faced by students during the pandemic. The new champion will advise universities on keeping students engaged with all aspects of campus life including how to spot the early warning signs of students who are struggling with their studies or mental health. It follows a survey published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and AdvanceHE showing mental health is the most common reason students give for considering dropping out.
The announcement was made by Minister Donelan in a speech at HEPI’s annual conference and follows a study suggesting students with higher levels of engagement and a greater sense of ‘belonging’ with their university do better academically.
Higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan said: “Year after year, hundreds of thousands of talented students brimming with potential attend our world-class universities, determined to make their mark on the world.
“Unfortunately, not every university experience is a positive one, and it’s all too easy for students to become overwhelmed.
“I have appointed Edward Peck to this crucial new role to make sure our universities have the right tools and expertise needed to spot the early signs and support students who need extra help.”
In the next two years as student support champion, Edward Peck will advise universities on how they can better monitor the student population, including through technologies such as customer relationship management systems. These systems can flag the early warning signs of those who are struggling by monitoring data such as attendance and library collections.
Edward Peck said: “I am enthused and encouraged that Minister Donelan has asked me to champion ways in which higher education students can be supported to continue and complete their studies. She is right to highlight the challenges both providers and students face, including those around mental wellbeing, in order for us to seek improvement.
“There is a determination within higher education institutions to get this right and I will promote effective and evidence-based best practice across the sector, enabling universities to offer the widest possible range of ways to engage students.”
High levels of student engagement and a sense of belonging have been linked with students performing well at university and reducing early drop-out rates. A recent joint study by Pearson and higher education outlet WonkHE showed those students with the sense of belonging associated with high engagement are likely to enjoy more academic success.
Out of those surveyed, 72% who agreed that they belonged at their institution felt confident about their academic skills compared to just 34% who reported that they did not feel such a sense of belonging.
The news comes as the Office for Students confirms how it will allocate almost £1.4bn of higher education funding, which will support high quality teaching and facilities including in science and engineering, subjects that support the NHS, and degree apprenticeships.