Addressing the awarding gap, fostering belonging: developing enhanced academic skills support for our Birmingham Scholars


  • Polly Harper University of Birmingham
  • Leanne B.M. Campbell University of Birmingham



academic skills, student success, enhanced support, awarding gap


In academic year 20/21, the University of Birmingham launched the ‘Birmingham Scholar’ programme as part of its Access and Participation Plan (University of Birmingham, 2019). This is a university-wide programme, supporting undergraduate students from under‐represented backgrounds, to achieve their full academic potential.

This presentation explored the central role of our Academic Skills Centre team in supporting the Birmingham Scholar programme, since its initiation. Alongside the support we provide to all our taught students, our team also run a centralised, enhanced programme of academic skills and peer support for all Birmingham Scholar students.

Currently, this includes tailored workshops and online guidance, enhanced opportunities for personalised one-one support and a dedicated, cross-discipline Peer-Assisted Study Scheme to aid with first-year transition and belonging at university. Through this enhanced programme, we aim to improve student success for our Birmingham Scholars by increasing their academic confidence, fostering a sense of belonging, and developing future skills along the way.

Attendees to the session discovered:

  • The development and delivery of our enhanced academic skills support offer so far, including evaluation of its successes and challenges.
  • Preliminary quantitative evidence which suggests the Scholar programme may help to reduce awarding gaps by improving degree outcomes for Scholars who engage with the programme.
  • Our future aims for the programme. These include goals to increase engagement with College academic Access and Participation leads to further embed and target our academic skills offer, provide a more holistic range of support by collaborating more widely with colleagues in areas such as our Careers Network, and foster further opportunities for peer-to-peer support.

Author Biographies

Polly Harper, University of Birmingham

Polly Harper works as an Academic Transition Officer at the University of Birmingham. Based within the Academic and Digital Skills Centre, Polly focuses on supporting student transition to university, through academic skills and peer support and particularly supporting the university’s most under-represented students through the Birmingham Scholar enhanced academic skills programme.

Leanne B.M. Campbell, University of Birmingham

Leanne B.M. Campbell is Head of Learning Enhancement (Student Success) within the Academic and Digital Skills Centre in Library Services at the University of Birmingham. She has a background in Widening Participation research and evaluation, and also worked in HE Strategic Planning at the university for over a decade before moving to Student Services to establish and co-ordinate the Birmingham Scholar programme. She manages an expert team of academic skills advisors within the university library and is responsible for student success support for under-represented groups, focusing on target groups identified in Birmingham’s Access and Participation Plan.


Thomas, L., Hill, M., O’Mahony, J. and Yorke, M., (2017) Supporting student success: strategies for institutional change. Final report from the What Works 2 Student Retention & Success Programme. London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Available at: (Accessed: 3 October 2023).

University of Birmingham (2019) Access and Participation Plan 2020-21 to 2024-25. Available at: (Accessed: 6 January 2023).

Valencia, R.R. (2010) Dismantling contemporary deficit thinking: educational thought and practice. Abingdon: Routledge.




How to Cite

Harper, P. and Campbell, L. (2023) “Addressing the awarding gap, fostering belonging: developing enhanced academic skills support for our Birmingham Scholars”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (29). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi29.1074.

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