The student experience: a collaborative approach to university welcome

By Professor Lynn Kilbride - 08 August 2022

Writing for Advance HE, Professor Lynn Kilbride, Vice Principal for Academic Development and Student Experience at Robert Gordon University, shares her thoughts on the university being awarded a Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence for developing a welcome package that positively impacts the student journey.

The context for our staff-student partnership

As the world emerges from a pandemic, maintaining a strong sense of community and a collaborative approach to shaping and enhancing student support is the way forward. Receiving a Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) means we are on the right track.

The commitment and dedication of Robert Gordon University's (RGU's) community have always been at the core of our significant achievements. The partnership that exists between our staff and students is strong and supporting our student's professional and personal development is of utmost importance and a top priority. This is reflected in our student satisfaction rates, which in recent years have consistently placed Robert Gordon University in the top 10 universities in the UK.

Throughout the pandemic, ensuring an effective and smooth transition to university for new and returning students became even more crucial as the disruption of the pandemic put the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of students more at risk. Recognising this, the University launched the Welcome Leadership Group (WLG) to devise and coordinate an innovative and comprehensive Student Welcome. The group brought together students and staff to benefit from our partnership strengths and ensure that the welcome experience was truly co-created.

We have always valued student voices, but it was paramount to embed them as we developed a support strategy that was up to the unprecedented challenge we faced at this time.

The project was also a catalyst for wider school-based enhancements, which delivered positive outcomes during a period of immense challenge and change. We continue to benefit from this initiative as the team now permanently co-creates and enhances the welcome experience for RGU students.

A collaborative approach to student support

RGU is committed to providing students with an excellent experience that will enable them to raise their aspirations and thrive in their professional careers as global citizens. To fulfil this commitment, an essential component of the student journey is welcoming them to the university community. At any time, this is a complex and resource-intensive activity involving professional services and academic staff.

Acknowledging the educational disruption students and staff faced due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was vital to reimagine this experience creatively. In recognition, the Welcome Leadership Group was formed in 2020 to support students transitioning to and through the university. Comprised of staff and students, the group is an example of RGU’s long-standing prioritisation of student partnership and co-creation. The group worked collaboratively to understand the needs of transitioning students and address these through a carefully designed, inclusive and supportive welcome to the RGU community.

To achieve this, they actively created a supportive space for student ideas and feedback, making joint decisions throughout the project. This approach empowered Student Presidents to represent the body effectively and share ownership over the project, ensuring that student experiences and needs remained at the heart of the project.

The group tailored the welcome package benefiting from their diverse composition, individual experiences, and perspectives to support a successful and rewarding student journey despite the global scenario.

Their effective collaborative efforts mean students across RGU now have online and in-person welcome events to embrace them within the community, which ensures greater inclusivity for learners. In addition, they can also enjoy bespoke easy-to-access digital resources and a series of regular communications designed to provide timely information and guidance.

These innovations enable social integration, familiarise them with the campus and online environment, and promote engagement with the full range of opportunities, resources, and student support available at RGU.

Cross-collaboration also ensured that the institutional welcome was well-understood, enabling staff across the university to embed resources within their courses, signpost key information appropriately and avoid duplication of effort at a time when staff across the institution were juggling competing demands and high workloads.

Impact and data-driven decision-making

As evidence of excellent impact, the dedication of the team has been demonstrated by an overall student satisfaction level of 87.7% from the newly developed Welcome Survey in semester 1 with an increase to 91.3% for the January release, a testament to the body of work undertaking to deliver improvement. Pleasingly a high percentage of students (82.6%) also reported feeling comfortable asking for support and advice and 92.3% of students found Welcome information and communications from the Welcome team to be helpful.

Consistent and regular consultation with staff and effective information sharing has assisted teams across the university to reduce unnecessary duplication in activities and enabled Schools to focus efforts and resources on complementary school and course-specific induction arrangements. Given their excellent impact on student experience, the group has transitioned to an established team overseeing welcoming activities at each intake. Reflecting the team and institutional commitment to evidence-based enhancement, they continue their collaboration to refine the experience by drawing on lessons learned, data and stakeholder feedback.

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