Creating communities for better student outcomes

A student smiling in a graduation cap and gown.

Placing greater emphasis on a sense of belonging and connection for students has been a transformative principle of education institutions for some time.  

However, for those of us educating international students it has been a core principle from day one. These are students who start their higher education journey in a second language, in a new country, in an unfamiliar culture miles away from family and friends.  

As one of our former international students says: “To embark on the uncharted territory of undergraduate life is quite a journey... The fear of confusion or missing out on crucial information resided within me initially.”  

Add to this the isolation and loss of confidence felt by many students following the pandemic and creating connection and community has never been more important.  

Enriching student communities 

Here are the top actions we’re currently taking to build even stronger student communities: 

  1. Longer inductions: Induction periods have been extended both pre and post arrival. There are increased opportunities to interact with and get to know peers, the teaching and student experience teams and the institution itself. 
  2. Structured connection: More creative and digitised methods are being used to engage students and to communicate services, resources, social activities and events, and structured connection points are built into the term to identify issues, offer encouragement, support and provide early interventions. 
  3. Peer engagement: Throughout the term, both in and out of the classroom, peer-led support and activities are valued and promoted to foster involvement and empowerment.   
  4. Student voice: The student voice is no longer interpreted through surveys alone. Instead it is heard through comprehensive inclusion that meaningfully connects students to decisions and will drive co-creation of solutions in the future. 

While none of this is new, the shift to a more pro-active, interactive and cohesive approach to creating a community and a sense of belonging has undoubtedly benefited students. 

Students understand what is expected of them and what is available to them, so feel better prepared and able to participate. They feel supported, empowered and able to reach out for help, which means greater engagement with their learning, higher levels of motivation, and confidence that they will progress to their chosen university. 

For example, when the student I’ve quoted above started at our University of Aberdeen International Study Centre, here’s what they had to say: 

“My trepidations fled away with encouraging and interactive live sessions... We also had trivia sessions where we got to introduce ourselves and learn about each other and the course, [and] we got to attend welfare sessions where we learned about the importance of mental wellbeing and how vital it is just to talk to someone.” 

By delivering effective, pro-active, and collaborative student support and experiences, higher education institutions in return enjoy improved rates of retention, progression, and student satisfaction.  

For those of us working in student experience teams, it gives a deep sense of achievement, that we have made a difference. 

And what about our initially nervous student, how did they leave us?  

“I honestly feel more self-assured and excited to study than ever.” 

Study Group Global Centre of Excellence for Student Experience  

It is for these multitudinous reasons that Study Group has established a Global Centre of Excellence for Student Experience. This new virtual hub connects the student experience teams at our International Study Centres, which we operate in partnership with universities around the world. By bringing together our Student Experience teams’ extensive knowledge, and rich and varied experiences, our Global Centre of Excellence will progress and develop effective practices that build a sense of belonging and community. We believe this, combined with academic standards and collaboration with our university partners, will deliver the best possible experience for the thousands of international students that we prepare for degree study each year.

Five students on Liverpool's Royal Albert Dock.