Partners for success

Professor Mary Carswell, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Birmingham City University, looks at ensuring students are ready for employment

Setting the scene

Ongoing research by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit has revealed that the UK job market is changing dramatically, with an increase in demand for skilled graduates, which is forecast to continue over the next decade.

The big question is how do universities ensure that students are prepared to take advantage of this new employment landscape?

In January 2013 Birmingham City University launched its Partners for Success: a project aimed at staff and students working closely together to help our students be more successful – achieving a good degree and getting graduate-level employment. The scheme has become a strategic part of our work.

By developing a mechanism where students are real partners in areas such as curriculum design, we have been able to improve levels of retention, progression and achievement for all of our students.

Partners for Success emphasises and supports developments and the relationship involving staff and students working in partnership.

We are building on the excellent partnership work already going on at the University such as our Student Academic Partners, Student Academic Mentoring Programme and our OpportUNIty Student Jobs on Campus scheme in all of which the Students’ Union and the University have worked closely together. Through OpportUNIty we offer many employment opportunities, placing students at the centre of the University function.

Backed by research

There has been some important research over the last few years supported by HEFCE and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. A range of projects has looked at different aspects in ‘What Works? Student Retention and Success’.

The findings raise some real concerns but also provide evidence of strategies that work. For example, they show that more than a third of students considered leaving university during their first year of study. The main reasons included lack of confidence about coping with their studies, and whether the course was going to help them with their careers. It is really important that we recognise these issues and work closely with our students to overcome such concerns.

If we take a step back and look at an overview of prospects for our undergraduates, what we see is that, in the past, not enough have both completed the degree they started and then gone on to get a graduate-level job within six months. This is a reasonable ambition for most of our students and we want to see significantly more achieve this.

Looking at evidence of what works, the research shows that one of the most effective ways of improving student success is ensuring strong supportive relationships between staff and students. The University already has a good track record of success in this area with our Times Higher award for Outstanding Support for Students testament to this.

Partners for success in action

We are already making massive progress with the Partners For Success scheme. We have invested over £170,000 in the Student Academic Mentoring programme (StAMP) with projects supported in all of our faculties. Other key highlights of the scheme include:

✥ Students employed as Student Success Advisers, Partners and Liaison Officers in faculties.

✥ Over £70,000 invested in programme-based initiatives aimed at developing employability skills. This investment has supported such work as the funding of careers speakers, attendance at national shows, placement scheme developments, and enhancement of extracurricular activities provided by the Students’ Union.

✥ Investment of £100,000 in leadership and employment development schemes for students, co-ordinated through our Careers Service.

✥ An ‘innovation pot’ for graduate employment development schemes such as: a Birmingham School of Acting Graduate Company; The Disruptive Lemonade ‘Hacking the Future 2014 scheme’; internships at the Hippodrome.

We are also increasing investment in staff development through an HEA Reward and Recognition programme and preparation for the accreditation of all academic staff through the Higher Education Academy United Kingdom Professional Standards Framework.

Over the next few years we want to see Birmingham City University firmly positioned in the top five of modern universities for student retention and achievement and graduate employment and be well on our way towards the upper quartile for all universities.

These are ambitious targets but we are confident that, with the determination and commitment of our staff to help our students succeed, they are achievable.




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