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Students who need to switch universities mid-course for personal reasons need greater support within the sector to prevent them dropping out of their studies altogether, a new report led by the University of Sheffield has found.
The report, Should I stay or should I go, examines student perceptions about mobility and credit transfer and calls for the Office for Students to approach its new duty on this issue using a student-focused perspective, with the view that higher education providers could better facilitate transfers when the need arises.
According to the study, conducted by a consortium of seven higher education (HE) providers led by the University of Sheffield, students see mobility as a welfare matter: if a student realises they may need to change not only a course but an institution – often due to personal circumstances – current support offered by universities across the sector is limited.
Student feedback suggested that better mobility can help a student move to a university more suited to their changed needs, rather than ‘dropping-out’ of HE altogether. Currently students fear transferring to another university will be difficult, will devalue their degree and make them look unreliable, with lecturers equally expressing concerns about the intellectual integrity of a degree ‘broken’ across locations.
The report makes several recommendations to better help students in need. Universities should locate the issue of student mobility and credit transfer within student support, welfare, advice and guidance rather than treating it as a student recruitment activity, with independent and impartial advice services to help students identify when transfer to another provider is the right decision for them.
The study also recommends universities provide support networks and mentoring to facilitate a smooth transition. Greater transparency and clearly available information on university websites about the option of credit transfer should accompany this. In addition, the report states that when credit transfer may be suitable it should be made clear, including details of what disciplines or courses students may be able to transfer to and from. This will help students make informed choices about how and when to move, if the need arises and make clear to them any pre-requisites or prior learning.
The study also called for Access Agreements to support widening participation students to relocate if needed and be provided help with the financial implications related to fees, as well as more immediate personal costs such as for an unexpected or unplanned move, which could create barriers to fair participation and access.
Professor Sir Keith Burnett, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sheffield said: “The vast majority of students settle into university life and complete their studies. A small number will, for usually unforeseeable personal reasons, need to move location before they have completed their course. In those circumstances, rather than leaving their studies or starting again, the option of moving to a local higher education provider with credit already accumulated can allow a student to continue to realise their potential.
“The value of a university degree has been proven time and time again so helping students to achieve their university aims and to complete their studies, especially when life throws up unexpected events, presents challenges to universities and students. However, with goodwill, cooperation and a determination that the interests of the student are paramount, obstacles can be overcome and students can and do succeed.
“This timely report offers practical recommendations about how universities can support students who need to relocate their place of study and will I hope spark a step change in how this option is presented to students.”
Dr Tony Strike, University Secretary, said: “It’s important the Government, universities and sector bodies work together to make moving higher education provider frictionless for those who need to move and to change perceptions among students and employers so degrees awarded by accumulation of credits from different universities are not seen as of lesser value than a degree awarded by a single university.
“This report aims to begin challenging these perceptions and makes important recommendations to universities and the Government on how we can better meet the pastoral needs of students on this important issue.”
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