3.1 Whole provider strategic approach
Our purpose, as set out in the University’s Strategic Framework 2018-30, is to ‘empower people to achieve their potential and make a positive contribution to society.’ This sets the tone for our access and participation work, and our contribution to eliminating inequality. Two of the core principles of the Strategic Framework lie at the heart of the access and participation agenda. Firstly, that ‘higher education should be equitable, inclusive and open to all who have the ambition and desire to learn and progress,’ and secondly, that ‘we understand and embrace our role in raising aspirations, improving skills and adding value to the lives of everyone in our region.’ The strategies, policies and initiatives that we have implemented to date, and those we are currently developing, will ensure that our strategic aims are realised; they are wide-reaching and extend beyond the curriculum to ensure that all our stakeholders see equality, diversity and inclusivity as part of their day to day responsibilities. We pay due regard to equality and diversity in designing strategies, policies and initiatives, as is our responsibility under the Equality Act 2010. In line with our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Strategy, new strategies, policies and projects are subject to scrutiny through equality assessment.
The University has recently completed a reorganisation, creating two new Centres: Student Life (CSL) and the Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). CSL encapsulates the whole student lifecycle and is home to our Social Mobility Team (which leads and delivers our widening access programmes, and has new dedicated resource for our access and participation policy, research and evaluation). This investment demonstrates our commitment to the access and participation agenda. CSL also includes our Student and Graduate Experience, Careers and Enterprise, and Library Teams. CSL has established strong links with CELT to support new developments in curriculum and pedagogic practice, which form some of the strategic measures in this plan. CSL is active in collaborative working with academic colleges and external organisations to secure institutional engagement across the whole student lifecycle. CSL and CELT led the creation of our institutional theory of change, through consultation with staff and student representatives.
Institutional theory of change
- Equitable outcomes for under-represented student groups
- Increased diversity in curriculum, opportunities, services, experiences and staff body
- Improved continuation and attainment for students from IMD Q1, continuation, attainment and progression for black students, attainment for disabled students, progression for Asian students
- Increase student social and personal capital
- Strategies: University Strategic Framework, Cultural Transformation Project, Learning and Teaching, Assessment and Feedback
- Policies: Attainment, EDI, Graduate Outcomes, Personal Academic Tutoring
- Scholarly activity: Research, evaluation, evidence-based practice, Ignite undergraduate research scholarship scheme
- Initiatives: Progress to Success Framework, Student Success (AdvanceHE), Student Experience FRamework, DELTA PEER (peer observation)
- Inclusive Student Services: Library, wellbeing, digital learning, careers
We developed our institutional theory of change, from the outcomes of our assessment of performance, which highlighted that we need to make improvements to ensure equitable success outcomes for student groups at the University: male students from low participation neighbourhoods (Q1-2), black students, and disabled students. This is an evidence-informed approach, enabled by investment in infrastructure, such as Learner Analytics. We now have a clear idea of the immediate outcomes and the activities that will enable us to achieve our objectives and meet our targets e.g. our commitment to bursaries responds to the financial barriers students from IMD quintiles 1 may experience (see section 6. Financial Support for details). Our institutional theory of change demonstrates the importance we place on ensuring that all of our students have access to and are supported through their studies by activities formulated to develop their skills and increase their engagement opportunities e.g. the Student Experience Framework.
Alignment with other strategies
Our Strategic Framework underpins all of our access and participation activity. The framework outlines how equality and diversity are at the heart of our transformational education experience, for staff and students, and is evidenced throughout practice and policy across the institution. Our access and participation plan is aligned to the current and newly emerging policies and strategies listed in our institutional theory of change. The major focus of these corporate documents is staff, through reflective practice, curriculum development, and provision of opportunities (Personal Academic Tutoring Policy, Assessment and Feedback Strategy, Learning and Teaching Strategy, Student Success Framework, services for students) as well as the institutional structures which foster equity (Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Policy, Attainment Policy, Graduate Outcomes).
3.2 Strategic measures
This section describes the evidence-based strategic measures we are taking to achieve the aims and objectives listed in our access and participation plan. We reject deficit models that focus on what students do not have versus what they do have. We recognise that our students’ assets, for example their background knowledge, experiences, and culture, are valuable resources that can inform our curriculum, define our pedagogy and support developments to promote inclusivity and lead to equitable success outcomes for students. We recognise that we need to change as an institution to ensure that under-represented student groups (in higher education) can excel in their studies during their time with us.
We have developed an overarching theory of change to ensure equitable success outcomes for under-represented student groups, and over the next six months, we will design a specific theory of change for each of our strategic measures. We require this additional time to search relevant literature and data sources to identify evidence-based initiatives to inform our specific activity.
Access to higher education - early interventions to support student success
Over the next 12 months, we will align the Progress to Success Framework (our flagship widening access programme) to the aims and objectives of our access and participation plan. We will design and deliver activities that will have a positive impact on participants’ knowledge and understanding of higher education and develop their learning skills to address issues of non-continuation and attainment later in the student lifecycle. Our use of tracking tools such as East Midlands Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Partnership (EMWPREP) and data evaluation tells us that we are engaging with large numbers of male learners from low-progression neighbourhoods, BAME students and students with disabilities. We also know that the number of Progress to Success Framework participants who go on to become University of Derby students exceeds expectation (for 2018, 28.4% of applicants converted to enrolled students at the University, compared to a University UG FT conversation rate of 18.1%). Our early intervention activity can directly affect the later success of our student body as they continue their journey with us. At an institutional level: we play an active role in addressing potential barriers to entry and the impact on the student experience; we embrace our role as a Civic University; our Vice Chancellor chair’s the Derby Opportunity Area Board; and we are influencing national outreach activity through leadership of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Collaborative Outreach Programme (DANCOP).
Curriculum, pedagogic and student support developments
We are currently developing a new Learning and Teaching strategy that will come into effect at the start of our five-year access and participation plan, and is facilitated by the initiatives outlined below. This ensures that our measures and activities are evidence-based and will maximise the positive impact for our target groups of disadvantaged students.
Learning and Teaching Strategy
Our new institutional strategy (2020-30) will further transform our learning and teaching practice and the student experience. Our goal is to develop dispositions of life-wide learning, allowing all students to gain knowledge, skills, graduate attributes and digital competencies, and to be inquisitive, harnessing research-informed and research-engaged activity. We will engage students in and beyond their discipline, widening their horizons and preparing them for graduate and leadership roles, enterprise and higher-level study. This will mean creating opportunities for students to work in an applied and transdisciplinary manner that reflects a world where problems are not confined to a single discipline; maximizing their knowledge through opportunities to explore and create in new spaces between disciplines. Inside the classroom and out in the field we will provide research and inquiry opportunities to enhance our students’ knowledge and experience, and to maximise opportunities to learn from industry experts and professionals. This will enable all of our students to build their social and personal capital, through both curricular and extra-curricular activities, and can disproportionately benefit our target groups.
At the heart of this new approach is successful students - at all stages of the lifecycle and across all modes of study. We believe that a holistic, student centred approach is boundary-less; enabling students to cultivate skills to make developmental decisions, to be independent, to develop selfefficacy, understand, evidence and articulate the value of learning through curriculum, beyond the formal academic programme and in employment, enterprise, volunteering and engaging in the student and wider community. We are exploring the potential of a bold person-centred, life-wide approach, co-created by students, academics, specialists, employers, and the community, which is underpinned by excellence in academic disciplines and provides innovative opportunities to explore and create in new spaces between disciplines. Applied learning, collaboration, adaptability and digital fluency will be central to the strategy, ensuring the curriculum provides students with opportunities to build the skills needed for life-long and life-wide learning and the future demands of Industry 4.0. Our work with partners, as part of our OfS funded project on wellbeing and the curriculum, will ensure that student learning improves wellbeing and self-management skills, to better equip students to flourish now and in their future careers and role as corporate citizens.
Students will play an active role in developing our new Learning and Teaching strategy through a range of existing communication channels, as well as additional ones such as responding to provocations and challenging questions. We also welcome the opportunity to work with the newly elected Vice President for Education, Union of Students (Derby), who included diversifying the curriculum within her manifesto.
We have adapted our 2019-20 academic calendar to extend opportunities for extra-curricular activity and boost student success. These experiences will develop students’ sense of belonging, academic skills and employability through a transdisciplinary approach. This will encourage collaborative working and engagement with different disciplinary perspectives, as well as levering advantage from civic and industry engagement. This will contribute to deeper understanding and a broader world-view. This approach to fostering deep learning is endorsed by our Student Wellbeing team, whose commitment to enhancing mental wellbeing is premised on the belief that a curriculum that scaffolds a deep-learning approach can help to reduce the anxiety that is associated with surface and strategic learning - this is particularly pertinent to our target group of disabled students (mental health). The Personal Academic Tutoring policy supports this process by encouraging students to focus on what they enjoy about the process of learning and setting goals that place them in control of their steps to success. The Centres for Student Life and Excellence in Learning and Teaching will enable academic colleges, employers, charities and communities to engage students in applied and transdisciplinary learning and evaluate the impact of this approach in relation to access, participation and success.
In combination, this new approach to learning and teaching will contribute to eliminating the continuation and attainment gaps for our target group of students.
We are working in partnership across the University, whilst engaging with external expertise, to develop a suite of tools to enhance our digital proficiency. This will enable us to: further understand the extent, timing and nature of challenges faced by our groups of disadvantaged students; support self-evaluation with an online diagnostic tool for all students to take control of their learning; enable enhanced targeting of relevant interventions and services. Enhanced use of student data will help us to make informed decisions and implement the best solutions for our students’ needs and priorities, leading to improved student success throughout the lifecycle. Our partnership approach with Jisc ensures our infrastructure and development of digital capability will be informed by learning from across the sector.
Advance HE Student Success Framework
We are the first higher education institution in the country to commit to embedding the agency’s best practice frameworks for student success. By adopting the frameworks, we will create a more consistent and integrated approach to curriculum design and the student experience, that is underpinned by evidence from our own institution as well as from across the HE sector. We will adopt seven principles which put students at the heart of the learning experience, including supporting student attainment, developing their skills as independent learners, connecting across disciplines and enabling them to become ‘game changers’. Our aim is to embed the Framework across the University to support the broader aspects of learning and teaching in a more integrated and innovative manner.
Following extensive planning by University and Advance HE teams, the Framework was launched in June 2019 with a pilot of 20 programmes and will conclude by March 2020. A fully inclusive approach was trialled with the Employability Framework in the University’s School of Art - engaging with students, alumni, staff, employers and local charities to ensure our wider community have the opportunity to shape our employability offering. We have developed a curriculum review tool to provide baseline data, enabling monitoring and evaluation to form a key part of our approach and inform future practice with our specific target groups of disadvantaged students. The learning from the pilot project will develop a framework to inform curriculum and engagement development across the institution, as well as informing the new learning and teaching strategy.
Education for Mental Health Project
We have been awarded OfS funding to lead a new project working alongside King’s College London, Aston University and Student Minds to create an evaluated, national online toolkit for academics that provides evidence-informed guidance on creating and providing curriculum, pedagogy and assessments that facilitate better student mental health while improving educational outcomes. This material will also be used to develop a national module for the PGCertHE, aligned with Advance HE’s fellowship accreditation, ensuring that new academics, nationally, have the knowledge and skills to support mental health and learning through their teaching. This innovation, therefore, has the potential to transform the role of curriculum and pedagogy in supporting good wellbeing across the entire sector. To develop this, we will:
- Capture existing examples of relevant innovative practice
- Consult students and experts in mental health and pedagogy
- Work with academic programmes to develop and test practice
- Use this learning to build the online toolkit
- Monitor and evaluate the impact of the toolkit.
Our theory of change to close the gaps in attainment for disabled students will be informed by the findings of this research.
The University Mental Health Charter
Our previous good work in supporting student mental health led to our selection as the initial pilot institution for the University Mental Health Charter. The piloting process will allow us to support the sector to develop and implement a whole university approach to student mental health and to analyse and identify areas for improvement at the University. In preparation for this work, our Executive Team has approved the formation of a cross-institutional task group to evaluate and understand how well our current offer meets the demands of a whole university approach and to create an initial action plan. We anticipate that the learning from this work will continue to emerge over the course of the next 12 months and we are committed to working closely with Student Minds, to support the development of the Charter and to use this learning to benefit the mental health and wellbeing of our students and staff.
We are developing a new institutional policy (currently under review by Academic Board, and out for consultation with staff and students) which aims to address attainment gaps within the institution, and in particular, the gaps that we have prioritised in our access and participation plan. The lessons learned and outcomes of the HEFCE Catalyst Fund Student Attainment Project 2 (SAP 2) have informed this new policy development. In summary, the policy will address the necessity for: inclusive learning spaces; human resource influence on the demographic composition of the staff body (including the level at which staff are appointed); a review of our curriculum and learning and teaching practices; inclusive leadership; and the development of students’ navigational capital through (a) the transparency and clarity of student-facing materials, and (b) the provision of clear guidance on the services that we offer to support, stretch and challenge students in their learning. This approach places an emphasis on what we can do to change and improve in order for our students to succeed.
We have piloted and evaluated a programme of pre-entry, psycho-educative interventions for students with Specific Learning Differences over the past three years. As part of our piloting and development process, we used evidence from evaluations to evolve and improve this programme, until we were satisfied it was comprehensive and effective. We are confident that this development phase is complete and are transferring it into mainstream activity. Over the next two years we will commission a research project to fully evaluate its impact, using a mixed methodological approach. We will also take the learning from this programme and seek to develop further interventions to support this student group.
As approximately 50% of our student body commutes to take part in higher education, we will work with our Union of Students (Derby) to understand the challenges they may face. Increasing our knowledge in this area, considering our data at a more granular level, as well as pursuing qualitative data collection, will better enable us to provide tailored support for our target groups and help close gaps in continuation and attainment.
Library Co-creation Project
The Centre for Student Life is exploring innovative ways of engaging students in the design and co-creation of services and opportunities. The Library and Student and Graduate Experience teams in CSL are collaborating with the Union of Students (Derby), students, scholars, researchers and professional services to develop new approaches. Launched in September 2018, learning resources have been extended and discovery enabled, library visitors have increased, opening hours extended, and learning spaces reviewed. The next phase of the project will further enhance these matters and create new opportunities for cocreation; exploring new ways for students to lead co-creation in the Library, to develop and share skills, design challenges, showcase success and collaborate in new ways. The student voice is at the heart of our co-creation projects, ensuring all students, including those traditionally disadvantaged, are able to influence the provision of academic and professional support.
Cultural Transformation Project
Having set out our direction and ambitions in the Strategic Framework, we identified the need to embed a high-performance culture across the institution to ensure we are able to drive innovation and success in the sector, city and region, and to secure equitable outcomes for our students. A staff consultation exercise in summer 2018 allowed us to assess our current culture, and develop an action plan to map out what was required to achieve the necessary transformation. We established a Transformation Programme Team to oversee the successful delivery of the cultural transformation, supported by a network of Change Champions covering all levels and all areas across the University. One of our desired cultural outcomes is that the University of Derby is diverse and inclusive, promotes opportunities for staff and students from all backgrounds, and creates opportunities to champion social mobility. We recognise the need to explore the diversity of our staff body, and the recruitment of greater numbers of BAME staff, thereby providing positive role models for our black students to support closing the attainment gap; for instance all staff now receive unconscious bias training.
Employability and skills development
Employability activities and applied learning are embedded within the curriculum; employability forms one of the three pillars of the University’s existing Learning and Teaching Strategy. There are several reasons for taking an approach that embeds employability in addition to providing stand-alone opportunities to enhance student employability and graduate outcomes. Embedding opportunities to enhance a student’s employability has made a positive impact on attainment in particular for students in protected characteristic groups. Extra-curricular activities can sometimes be restricted to those who do not need to combine their studies with paid employment or for those who do not have caring responsibilities; by embedding opportunities for 30 hours of work experience in every undergraduate on-campus programme, students are less likely to be disadvantaged in terms of engagement by their external commitments. Developing social and network capital is a key outcome of embedded employability in the connections that students make with employers and external providers (see for example Bathmaker, 20161). The alignment of the Library, Careers and Digital Learning teams in the Centres (CSL and CELT) enables inclusive approach to skills development for learning, research and progression to high skilled outcomes.
Our new Strategy for Highly Skilled Graduate Outcomes will contribute to the achievement of our access and participation aims and objectives through paid applied learning opportunities at the University, enhanced employability activity embedded within the curriculum, an award-winning enterprise model for student start-ups, and a tailored offer to final year students as they transition into alumni. New initiatives will also be piloted, such as ‘Students as Trustees.’ These opportunities will allow students to undertake professional qualifications, resulting in enhanced skill development, talent spotting by employers, civic engagement, and opportunity creation.
(1 BATHMAKER, A.-M., INGRAM, N., ABRAHAMS, J., HOARE, A., WALLER, R., & BRADLEY, H. (2016). Higher education, social class and social mobility: the degree generation.)
Research and evaluation
Our research and evaluation practice is enhanced through membership of the East Midlands Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Partnership (EMWPREP), which allows us to track the outcomes of students who engage in both our access programmes and those of the member HEIs. The partnership focuses on outreach targeting, research, monitoring and evaluation work across a range of activities to evaluate impact. Logging evaluation outcomes enables us to map students’ responses against a set of knowledge indicators at intervals, enhancing our understanding of cohorts and enabling us to maximise impact. We have been a member of EMWPREP for many years, pre-dating the expansion of the HEAT tracker, and find that the database has greater functionality than HEAT. We have joined a Theory of Change research group, led by the University of Sheffield, to develop our awareness of evidence-informed good practice in this area. Our new investment in research and evaluation will allow us to develop a greater knowledge of the issues faced by students from under-represented groups in higher education, and contribute to sector discourses in this area.
City of Derby Opportunity Area
Derby is one of the twelve Opportunity Areas established by the Government to tackle barriers to social mobility. Leadership of the Derby Opportunity Area Board (chaired by our Vice-Chancellor) is a significant element of our widening access strategy. The initiative is exploring the causal factors to under-performance in the city’s schools, raising aspiration, improving education standards and giving young people the best possible start in life. We have successfully increased the number of our staff serving as governors in Derby secondary schools, which has helped us to better understand and contribute to tackling issues.
Alignment with other work and funding sources
National Collaborative Outreach Programme
Our leadership of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Collaborative Outreach Programme (DANCOP) demonstrates our commitment to social mobility and desire to influence the sector. DANCOP is supporting disadvantaged local young people in progressing to higher education from areas where we know that the higher education participation is lower than expected based on GCSE-level attainment. We are also a partner in the Higher Horizons+ NCOP, allowing us to collaborate with 20 HEIs and FECs, local schools, employers and other stakeholders. Partnership working, and a robust evaluative framework, helps us to improve our understanding of activities likely to raise awareness and achievement. Our role in both DANCOP and Higher Horizons+ allows us to collaborate with likeminded practitioners and deliver activities that will support national improvements in access rates for students from low participation neighbourhoods, and to reflect on initiatives and effective practice that could add value to our own access and student success programmes.
We designed our programme based on experience gained from managing and evaluating a range of previous bursary schemes. This showed us that students from low participation neighbourhoods, and from low income households, valued the financial support provided to them by the University and helped them to stay on course. We have used the evaluation tools developed by OFFA to assess the impact of our arrangements. Our statistical analysis supports the notion that bursaries are effective and achieve their aim of ‘closing the gap’ in retention outcomes between financially disadvantaged students and other groups of students, ameliorating any pre-existing educational disadvantage. Our statistical analysis revealed that low-income with bursary students were 11% more likely to be retained into the second year of study, all things being equal, than low-income no bursary students. This will be important to our efforts to ensure that students from IMD quintile 1 are able to stay on course and succeed in their degree. The findings of our student survey, which ran in parallel with the statistical modelling, indicated that a significant number of students who relied upon paid work and large bursaries (£600+) to stay on course - this allowed them to pay for essential livings costs and study materials. Financial support allowed the recipients to participate with their fellow students, to feel more satisfied with student life, and to concentrate on their studies without worrying about their finances. We continue to use the tools to investigate the impact on good honours and graduate employability.
University of Derby Bursary
Our arrangements extend beyond the traditional national household income threshold (£25,000 to £36,592). This is a key group where family resources to supplement funding are pressured. We ensure that our arrangements are transparent and published in a timely manner so that applicants have sufficient information to make application decisions. The University of Derby Bursary2 will be available to all full-time, home, undergraduate students entering higher education for the first time in 2020-21:
- Students with a household income of £0-£25,000 - annual £1,000 Derby+ award - includes £100 learning resources element
- Students with a household income of £25,001 £36,592 - annual £600 Derby+ award - includes £100 learning resources element
- Students with a household income of £36,592+ - £100 learning resources element
Students do not need to apply as entitlement is automatically assessed using household income details provided to us by the funding authority (i.e. Student Finance England, Wales, Northern Ireland, SAAS). In order for us to assess student eligibility we require sponsor(s) (partners/parents etc) to give consent to share their income details through Student Finance. For continuing students in receipt of a University of Derby Bursary in previous academic years, we will continue to assess eligibility using the standard eligibility criteria. Eligibility is based on successful progression through studies (i.e. stage 1, stage 2, stage 3 etc.). Notification of all awards (payments, dates etc.) will be sent to all eligible students by email. The bursary is not available to part-time, online, overseas students, students with undetermined residency status or students on certain professional programmes. Our financial support arrangements are reviewed and approved annually by the ViceChancellor’s Executive Group.
(2 All students will receive a financial award of £100 that will be ring-fenced for the purchase of learning resources. Only awards to be provided to students whose household income is sub-£36,592 are included as APP-countable expenditure)
Further Education Progression Bursary
We offer a FE Progression Bursary to students who studied at Buxton & Leek College (part of the University of Derby Group) within a three year period of entry. This bursary is open to all students progressing from FE to HE but we are confident, given the demographic and geographical pull of our FE student population (areas of rural disadvantage), that a significant proportion of those in receipt of this bursary will come from backgrounds that are consistent with our widening access aims.
Discretionary Hardship Fund
We provide a Discretionary Hardship Fund (DSF) that supports student retention and success and identifies additional activities historically supported through the Access to Learning Fund (ALF). We offer a range of interventions designed to support student budgeting and financial management skills which are embedded in the fund’s application process. These interventions improve student financial planning ability, day to day budgeting skills, and increase understanding of the underlying behaviours that can drive overspending and how to address them. We monitored the impact of these interventions through the effect on the number of repeat applications to the main DSF. The percentage of applicants submitting a reassessment fund has significantly reduced from 11.2% in 2013-14 (ALF) to 8.4% in 2017-18 (DSF).
3.3 Student consultation
OfS regulatory advice highlights the importance of engaging students with the formulation, monitoring, and evaluation of access and participation plans. The OfS specifically refers to the importance of collaboration with students’ unions, but goes further to discuss the role of student representation and input from the wider student body, including students from a diverse range of backgrounds. Engagement processes need to be inclusive and appropriate for our student body, offering a range of accessible ways for students to provide feedback. The OfS recognises the difficulty of sourcing feedback from ‘less-engaged’ students. We have developed mechanisms to respond to this challenge, utilising a range of methods to gather feedback rather than solely relying on student engagement at focus groups or via surveys. There are two phases of student involvement in the access and participation plan - the first phase considers how students will input into the formulation of the plan, and phase two addresses monitoring and evaluation.
To offer students an opportunity to be involved in the design of the access and participation plan, providing their views on barriers and opportunities related to access, success, and progression. A communication plan, which featured an awareness-raising email and social media campaign throughout May and June 2019, successfully drew students’ attention to the access and participation plan and the ways in which they could contribute. We engaged with over 900 students, through a poll, focus group, and ‘on the ground research’ at a College conference and Gradfest event. Outputs have informed our theory of change e.g. when asked, “Is there anything additional the University could do to support you?”, 30% of respondents cited “more academic support.” This is reflected in the activities section of our institutional theory of change.
We provided the opportunity for students to express an interest in contributing to phase two of the consultation. An essential part of the communication plan revolved around how student feedback influenced the creation of the access and participation plan so that students could see the impact of their engagement and motivate them to continue their involvement. The input of the Union of Students (Derby) is integral to our access and participation planning. We are confident, following consultation with the Chief Executive Officer, that our institutional theory of change (diagram 1) is rooted in overcoming barriers and presenting parity of opportunity for all students.
To address student engagement in the monitoring and evaluation of the access and participation plan. We propose to repeat some of the activity undertaken in phase one to assess progress; the responses we receive will indicate whether interventions (and more importantly their impact) from the plan have been recognised and valued by students. We will conduct more indepth interviews (in-person or online) with students who have expressed their interest for ongoing involvement in phase one. In order to expand the depth and breadth of the student voice, by recruiting students to be engaged longitudinally with monitoring and evaluation of the access and participation plan, we are considering remuneration, either via a new co-creation opportunity, or via the Derby On-Campus Internship Scheme. This would enable us to recruit from beyond the pool of ‘highly-engaged’ students who are able to contribute their time to such activity, and may enable us to engage more under-represented students.
Maintaining our close relationships with Union of Students (Derby) officers will be essential to securing meaningful consultation; as representatives of the student body, they have a unique insight into the experiences of the range of students they are representing. The Vice President (Welfare) co-chaired the Access and Participation Plan Task Group and will play an active role in future monitoring and evaluation processes. Our annual student surveys generate a wealth of feedback, and results will be analysed by specific characteristics to evaluate student satisfaction through the lens of different student groups. Ongoing communication will be essential during this phase, to encourage students to engage with the opportunities outlined in the plan, and to generate feedback on how these opportunities are experienced by our students. Our annual Student Representative Conference allows student representatives to participate in our decision-making processes and provides senior staff with an opportunity to engage with the student voice. The event includes a question and answer session with a panel comprising of members of the University Executive, Deans and Directors, chaired by the Union of Students (Derby).
3.4 Evaluation strategy
We are seeking to implement an effective institutional evaluation strategy, building upon our existing evaluation work across the University. This practice is at varying levels of development at each stage of the student lifecycle - largely in line with the extent of published research.
Work to establish evidence and impact is at its most advanced stage across our access and progression activities. For example, our Progress to Success Framework (a long-term outreach initiative aimed at raising the aspiration, awareness and attainment cohorts of learners through a multi-intervention approach from Year 7 through to Year 11) is informed by robust evaluation and reflection embedded throughout, using a logic model to map out success and impact measures to ensure effectiveness. As lead institution for the DANCOP project, we share good practice both regionally and nationally, supporting a research-based approach to designing outreach activity.
With regard to progression to postgraduate study and graduate employment, we have developed an employability theory of change model, which informs our approach for students joining the University from 2021-22. We will continue to develop our evaluation frameworks for access and progression activity with a more research-informed approach and focus on long term and intensive initiatives. New investment in evaluation will be directed towards student success (continuation and attainment). A wealth of sector research is already available for access and progression activity but comparatively sparse for retention and progression. We expect to take a pragmatic approach for the latter, as both our knowledge and sector research catches up.
Our staff resourcing demonstrates the institutional commitment to evaluation. For example, we have refocused the role of the Research and Policy Lead exclusively on social mobility and extended leadership in this area through the Head of the Centre for Student Life, and Head of Employability and Social Mobility. In addition, we have recently invested in two new posts to support evaluation around our social mobility activity, comprising an Evaluation and Evidence Manager and a Research Assistant. In order to enjoy the benefits of impartiality and professional expertise, we will work with the International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) to develop our APP evaluation strategy. Our evaluation team will comprise colleagues from across the institution as well as including an independent viewpoint. We will continue to benefit from an independent perspective by commissioning further work throughout the five-year period to support the development of our evaluation strategy, which spans four phases:
The evaluation team will draw together our wide range of social mobility initiatives using an over-arching evaluation framework and theory of change. Student voice will be embedded within this process, as will consultation with key stakeholders such as employers, schools and community groups. The evaluation team will review existing research findings on access, continuation, attainment and progression to identify causal factors and what works, with whom and in what circumstances, whilst drawing on findings from the Advance HE pilot project for Student Success within our own institutional context. For example, ‘What Works in student retention and success’ Thomas, Hill, O’ Mahony & Yorke (2017) will be instrumental to informing our evidence-based approach. Dr Joan O’ Mahony is leading our workshop for Programme Leaders on “Access, Retention, Progression and Attainment” within the Advance HE pilot programme.
The findings from the literature reviews will inform a theory of change for each strand of activity (access, continuation, attainment and progression) to sit under the over-arching institutional theory of change. The findings will be used to develop frameworks for activities which identify specific populations and causal factors they purportedly target.
Having constructed theories of change and frameworks for activities, a programme of investigation will be conducted across the University (support teams and academic staff), Union of Students (Derby) and the student voice, (informal and formal) to identify what activities, programmes and initiatives are being run that might facilitate closing the gaps across the student life cycle. These will be mapped against the frameworks. The research will also identify what evaluation has been conducted and the quality of supporting evidence.
The evaluation team will ensure:
- Each strand (access, continuation, attainment and progression) has a theory of change based on research evidence
- Each activity, programme or initiative sits within the framework and has a theory of change which contains the answers to the following questions:
- What is the specific problem?
- What is the intervention explicitly aiming to do?
- Who is the target audience?
- What is theory behind the intervention? Why will it work?
- What is the evidence for this? Is it based on assumptions? Is it based on theory? Is it based on published evidence (and if so what is the quality of this evidence?)
- How does it work?
- Within each strand evaluation will typically be realist (theory driven, small step change assessment, mixed methods) but will use the OfS framework for design of specific evaluations (e.g. narrative, empirical, causal) for specific activities:
- Empirical evaluation will be used for inexpensive, light touch interventions (e.g. information dissemination) and one-off interventions (e.g. campus visits, taster sessions)
- Establishing causation will be the aim for long term interventions (e.g. mentoring programmes), intensive interventions (e.g. residential programmes), and multi-activity intervention programmes (e.g. transition support programmes)
- The evaluation team will produce:
- Reports for activities, programmes and initiatives which will be presented to the APP group and management during APP meetings or as required:
- For light touch and one-off interventions these will be summaries of feedback which might include ‘distance travelled’ but will be predominantly formative in nature. These may be done biannually or annually as opposed to per activity
- For longitudinal, resource-intensive and multi-activity programmes the reports will be significantly more detailed and include measures of impact, return on investment where possible and recommendations for development. These will be based on individual activities and may be published on the university UDORA system
- Conference presentations and workshops where appropriate, both internal and external, to share practice externally
- Academic articles in journals where appropriate
- The findings of the evaluation team are used to develop those activities which have been shown to have impact and how to distribute resources to future activities.
3.5 Monitoring progress against delivery of the plan
The Provost (Academic), member of the University Executive Group, is responsible on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor for oversight of our access and participation commitments. Our access and participation plan was developed by a cross-institutional task group, led by the Head of the Centre for Student Life, and co-chaired by a sabbatical officer of the Union of Students (Derby), on behalf of the Academic Board (the deliberative body with remit for access and participation). Membership of the task group includes academic staff from each College and representatives of relevant professional services, together with the Union of Students (Derby).
To ensure integration of the access and participation plan with University activity, governance is assured through Academic Board and its sub-committees as well as oversight by Governing Council, and the Audit and Risk Committee. Furthermore, to continue to provide the focus which has added value to the development of this plan, the task group will continue to operate. We welcome external scrutiny of our approach; we will be forming a panel of experts, reflective of our community and sector best practice, to appraise our approach and progress in achieving our ambitions to eliminate gaps in student success. The Governing Council has considered and approved our access and participation plan (under the OfS Governance condition E2), and will receive regular updates on the progress we have made towards our aims, objectives and targets. We will publish and submit an access and participation impact report to the OfS each year. The report will focus on the outcomes we have achieved, including progress against targets, and identifying lessons learnt. We will give our student body the opportunity to include a commentary in our annual report. The Governing Council and the Audit and Risk Committee will receive the annual report for approval prior to submission to the OfS.
We are developing a new suite of institutional success measures, which will include access and participation, to underpin our new Strategic Framework. The University’s Executive Leadership Team will monitor performance against our new measures, which will be subject to scrutiny by the Governing Council. The Governing Council and Audit and Risk Committee receive a regular Academic Quality Performance Report, which sets out our performance in the following areas: Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), student module performance, value-added and widening participation, and staff fellowship/senior fellowship of Advance HE. We are investigating the integration of our APP targets and performance within the report. Finally, we will invite a Governing Council representative to work with the Provost (Academic) to ensure a full understanding of the process.
Our quality review process (continual monitoring) will support the monitoring of our access and participation goals. The process provides a formal opportunity for review, reflection, evaluation of course performance and the writing and monitoring of action plans for course enhancement. The Academic Development and Quality Committee (ADQC) receives Course and College reports.