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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
Unite Students has published what it describes as the "first in-depth UK report on student resilience". Authored by Dr Emily McIntosh from the University of Bolton and Jenny Shaw from Unite Students, the report draws on a large survey dataset and an extensive literature review to provide a fresh definition of resilience.
The report makes a positive case for resilience, shining a light on, and proposing a way forward for, what has become something of a debate within the sector. Some of the key findings include:
· There is a growing issue of student mental ill-health:
This research reinforces the view that there is a growing issue with student mental health, isolation and stress.
· Resilience is tangible:
Resilience can be defined and is influenced by both internal and external factors, with students’ social environment having a significant role to play.
· Resilience is linked to satisfaction:
Higher resilience is associated with higher life satisfaction.
· Resilience can be developed:
Individual resilience isn’t fixed; it can be developed - through innovative pedagogies and students’ social and living environment.
· Greater understanding is required:
The evidence is that a better understanding of resilience could have a significant impact on improving outcomes for both students and universities.
· Cultural exclusion:
Students from socio-economic groups D and E have similar ‘internal resilience’, but score lower on social factors, suggesting that the culture of university can be less welcoming to students from a working class background.
· Peer support:
Peer support, including flatmates or housemates, can play an important role in resilience.
The report also sets out an academic case for resilience, arguing that it embodies the traditional values and mission of higher education: to nurture strong, independent learners and to support the development of rounded individuals that can contribute positively to society.
However, the authors argue that there is ambiguity associated with the word resilience. This has been, in part, due to a lack of qualitative and quantitative data assessing its impact and how it can be used and applied to the overall student experience, particularly in relation to student support, retention and success.
This is addressed by:
1. Reviewing the existing literature on student resilience;
2. Presenting new insights based on a quantitative dataset collected for the Unite Students Insight Report in 2016; and
3. Shedding light on the ambiguity of the term resilience by offering a more concrete definition of its significance and application in the area of student experience.
Resilience addresses mental wellbeing across the whole student population and potentially offers the key to useful strategies and interventions. It is rooted in positive thinking, is developmental, avoids labelling and is empowering for students.
Mainstreaming resilience approaches within higher education offers opportunities to improve student outcomes, to nurture independent learners and ultimately to empower a whole generation with valuable skills for uncertain times.
The Student Resilience report can be downloaded from www.unite-group.co.uk/studentresilience You can follow the conversation on twitter using the hashtag #studentresilience
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