Fostering a sense of belonging: supporting the early formation of student identity as successful learners in Higher Education

Sarah Parkes


AbstractSince the Widening Participation (WP) policy of the New Labour Government (1997-2010) and the increased market-like environment created by raised tuition fees, institutions are increasingly focusing significant effort on enhancing the student experience in order both to retain existing students as well as competitively market themselves to prospective students (Brown, 2011; Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2011; Thomas, 2012). Pre-entry activities that include Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG), supporting social and academic integration, managing student expectations and encouraging the development of appropriate academic study skills (Gorard et al., 2006; Crabtree et al., 2007) have thus been utilised to engage new learners in the experience of Higher Education (HE), with the potential to influence their progression and retention once on-programme (Thomas, 2002; 2011; Yorke and Thomas, 2003; Thomas and Quinn, 2006; Thomas and Jamieson Ball, 2011). Thomas (2011, p.45) suggests that evidence does indeed indicate that such pre-entry interventions ought to influence retention and progression yet it is still not clear how such interventions affect a studentââ¬â¢s experience of HE.Drawn from interviews conducted in 2012, this paper discusses the experiences of students participating in HEADstart; a two week pre-entry blended learning course at Newman University, Birmingham. Using notions of belonging, this thematic analysis explores the extent to which participation supports the early formation of a sense of belonging in HE, which is a key element to successful student progression and success (Thomas, 2012).


Student belonging, Retention, Academic integration, Withdrawal

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ISSN: 1759-667X