The move to online teaching last year indicated a greater need than ever before to maximise students’ access to their universities’ support services – and strengthening their peer networks could be the key to achieving it.
According to The Guardian, universities received a record number of applications in 2020, with more than 4 in 10 eighteen year olds applying by 30th June. Even accounting for a national lockdown, and the continued uncertainty around course delivery during COVID, it would seem Higher Education is a more popular choice than ever. But simply attracting students is no longer enough. On average, 1 in 10 will drop out before their second year in HE, and even for the ones who stay, engagement, attainment and satisfaction are not a guarantee.
Of course, in the majority of universities, the situation isn’t quite so dire as it sounds – but the repercussions of even one student drop out (for the student and their university) are simply too great to let slide. So what can we do to make sure institutions don’t just acquire students, but engage and retain them too? Make the most of the student networks that are all around them – and go to where they are.
In the last decade, huge advances have been made technologically, culturally and socially, and these advances have the potential to make Higher Education an inordinately more inclusive experience. The record number of students applying to University can be attributed to those student’s new found assertions that they belong there.
89% of first years say peer mentoring helped them settle into university*
So, what’s the problem? Yes, these students are drawn in with the promise that they belong. But when they arrive, they find that (not for want of trying) not much has changed. For widening participation students, international students, members of the lgbt+ community and more, settling into university can be hugely challenging if they struggle to find people they can relate to. More importantly still, university support (albeit readily available) often requires reaching out in a way most 21st century students are largely unused to doing – in person. As a result, students’ questions go unasked, and university support goes unnoticed. When this happens, students struggle to feel like they truly belong.
50% of students say having a peer mentor made them reconsider dropping out*
It would be hard to argue that Universities aren’t trying their best. From wellbeing teams to careers services, societies to support groups, help is well publicised and readily available. But the problem is that student engagement with these services is still comparatively low. Why? Most methods of support aren’t delivered in a format that matches 21st century demand. No 21st century student really wants to go for an awkward conversation in a stuffy room with a well being therapist who they’re convinced couldn’t understand their problems if they tried. They don’t want to go to their personal tutor, because they don’t think anyone else like them would ever ask for help. Add in the switch to online learning, and students all over the country – and around the world – are studying from their bedrooms, isolated, and unable to ask for help.
So, what is the answer? Give them the tools to access all the guidance, support and communication they need. But let them do it their way. At tyfy.co, we take university peer support online. Our matching algorithm pairs students with mentors from their university based on their individual needs; older, relatable student advisers who can point them in the right direction, whether they’re looking for a book on Shakespeare or want to know how to access the wellbeing service. The support is already there – Tyfy mentors simply help make sure that students find it.
Tyfy has proven to increase student engagement with peer mentoring by over 200%**
“Using the Tyfy system will allow our students to have easier access to receive support and guidance.”– Katy Lockett, Student Mental Health Project Officer at Keele University.
Younger students might feel too ‘silly’ to walk up to a scary third year and ask a question about Harvard referencing – but it’s far easier and less intrusive to send a quick message from their phone and get a helpful response. Older students don’t always have time for a coffee meeting with a Fresher – but they do have time to send a reply. 50.7% Of students found Tyfy more time efficient than their previous paper based mentoring system.*** The added bonus is that mentors get to prove they possess the qualities employers look for (approachability, time-keeping, communication) and fill their CV with demonstrable soft skills in their spare time.
76% of students found Tyfy ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ to use.***
During the September 2020 autumn term, almost 5,000 interactions took place between students using Tyfy, and almost 4,000 new connections were made. From one-to-one chat facilities to course specific forums, Tyfy is a hub for student support and networking, all online. Crucially, students can access support wherever they are, and whenever they need it.
“Using it has enabled me to connect with more experienced students who shared best-bets and useful advice.”– Tom Perry, undergraduate at Nottingham University Business School
*study conducted by Technological University Dublin.
** study completed with students at Nottingham University Business School.
***study conducted alongside Keele University.