UTS First Year Experience
The UTS FYE framework places students at its centre, and recognises that the whole university community affects students’ identity, sense of belonging and success.
The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) has developed a systematic university-wide approach to support retention and success for students from LSES backgrounds, within a philosophy that good practice for these students is good practice for all students. The approach integrates curriculum, academic and support staff and infrastructure to address first year student transition. The UTS First Year Experience (FYE) framework places students at its centre, and recognises that the whole university community affects students’ identity, sense of belonging and success. The program promotes cohesion and collaboration between different UTS initiatives, links relevant policies and shares resources and expertise across the university.
The FYE program weaves together a university-wide learning community of academic and support staff, community forum events, a FYE small grants scheme for coordinators of first year subjects and, more recently, Faculty FYE coordinators. The FYE forum events enable practice sharing, networking and building cross-disciplinary synergies. These activities have informed wider discussion on supporting student transition, creating engaging learning environments and integrating learning support into the curriculum.
Fifty FYE grants (maximum $4,000) have been awarded to date, focusing on curriculum redesign, assessment scaffolding, classroom practice, communication and teamwork skills, peer mentoring, and student life skills.
In 2013, faculty first year academic coordinators are extending the influence of the FYE program and addressing specific faculty needs. The coordinators report to the associate deans (teaching and learning) and work cohesively with the institutional FYE coordinator, to increase their academic colleagues’ awareness of FYE transition pedagogy and FYE grants, and develop tutor workshops and communities of practice.
The FYE program aims to improve retention and success for students from LSES backgrounds, through strategies that engage academic and support staff and improve the experience of all students.
The FYE program has been fully funded by the HEPPP since July 2011. The project funds a university FYE coordinator, faculty FYE coordinators (0.2 full time equivalents each), the FYE small grant scheme and FYE forum activities.
The success of the FYE program is measured directly using retention (attrition) and success (pass rate) statistics for commencing students from LSES backgrounds. In faculties with a close engagement with FYE program, students, particularly those from LSES backgrounds, have slightly higher pass rates and lower attrition than those in earlier years. Measures of FYE small grant success include improved pass rates in some subjects, up 15–20 per cent from the previous year. Success is measured indirectly by the growing academic engagement in the FYE forums and grants. Staff participation in the FYE learning community has risen from 30 to 275, with 90 academic and support staff involved in the FYE grants and 80 attending recent forum events.
The strength of this program is in fostering changes to curriculum and student learning approaches to support student transition to university. Potential research focuses on the impacts of transition pedagogies on student retention and success, and the impacts on academics’ practices of obtaining small grants and creating synergies with other academics and support staff.