Information, advice and guidance for prospective students 

The coronavirus pandemic has created a huge amount of uncertainty in the decision making process for many higher education applicants.

These case studies include some of the ways universities, colleges and others are responding to the challenges of delivering high-quality information, advice and guidance (IAG) to prospective students through different channels, especially in the context of imminent decision deadlines.

These interventions have been developed at pace and have not yet been evaluated for effectiveness. Their inclusion is not intended to stipulate particular approaches or endorse the actions of specific institutions. They are offered in the spirit of sharing practice that others may find useful and applicable to their own contexts.

The Aimhigher West Midlands Uni Connect partnership, led by the University of Birmingham, speedily responded to the need to reach out to its learners through the development of an online chat function which aims to provide online mentoring.

By the end of April 2020, there had been just over 700 visits to the chat function and over 600 visits to the home learning section.

This runs in tandem with the existing online tutoring offered by the partnership.

Edge Hill University has launched 'University at home', a weekly timetable of live, virtual events providing prospective students with up-to-date and impartial information, advice and guidance.

The university’s education liaison team delivers five sessions a day through the Blackboard Collaborate platform, which can be accessed on laptops, computers, phones and tablets.

There are sessions for students from year 7 up to year 13 (and year 14 in Northern Ireland) and Access to Higher Education students, covering topics including study skills, introduction to higher education, student finance and personal statements.

There is also a range of subject-specific sessions for students who are interested in particular disciplines or careers, including medicine and teaching, as well as sessions in the evenings for parents and carers.

Sessions can be booked up to three weeks in advance, and students can receive recordings to watch back afterwards. Teachers and advisers can also book in bespoke sessions to be delivered to a group of their students learning from home on dates and times of their choice to fit in with virtual teaching timetables.

The Future Quest Uni Connect partnership, headed up by the University of the West of England, Bristol, has developed an online programme called 'My Future Quest'.

The programme will run for a six week period and will be offered to all learners in Future Quest secondary schools in Bristol and South Gloucestershire.

The programme will consist of six themed weeks, with each theme linking to an overall ‘quest’ for students to collect the knowledge and skills for successful progression. On completion of activities the learners will be awarded with a certificate. The themes are:

  • developing your strengths and wellbeing
  • career pathways
  • discover higher education
  • preparing for your next steps
  • building skills.

The theme of the final week will be determined by the learners.

The North East Collaborative Outreach Programme, led by Newcastle University, has reviewed and repurposed its student-facing FutureMe activity in schools and colleges.

FutureMe’s 15 partner colleges are continuing to provide one-to-one support for students through virtual learning environments, telephone and online meetings. These activities are providing support for students transitioning to an online learning environment and needing to make progression decisions, particularly for those hoping to enter higher education in 2020.

A variety of interventions such as virtual careers appointments, online study skills and platforms to enable students to create professional profiles that highlight their key and transferable skills are now underway.

The partnership is also developing a study buddy app which will support students’ academic learning, help foster strategies to build resilience and ease transition to higher education.

Hello Future is led by the University of Cumbria and is the Cumbrian Uni Connect partnership. It is adapting a number of activities into an online format including mentoring, virtual support for mature access learners (via their colleges) and new resources for young people, teachers and advisers and parents and carers to provide support during this time.

The partnership is also creating pre-recorded elements of workshops and presentations, along with supporting booklets and materials which will be shared with schools and colleges.

The partnership has a large range of resources about higher education choices and curriculum-linked information on its website which is being promoted and shared across social media platforms.

Additionally, the partnership will develop online packs as a digital information toolkit that can be downloaded by schools, colleges and community groups. This will provide essential information and advice on planning future trips for learners at a point in time when restrictions are lifted.

The Higher Horizons+ Uni Connect partnership, led by the University of Keele, has over the past few weeks been developing 45 online sessions which cover essential areas of support for young learners including:

  • IAG
  • revision skills
  • Ramadan wellbeing tips
  • wellbeing
  • learning from home
  • wider curriculum support.

The partnership has added a safeguarded chat function to its website which enables staff members to respond directly to questions from learners, schools, colleges, parents and carers.

Attending open days can be a significant part of students’ decisions about where to study, so Leeds College of Music has developed an online open day portal.

The portal includes films of welcome talks, course talks and student panels at previous open days. It also allows prospective students to take a virtual tour around key areas of the campus, and houses all the information students need on applying, accommodation, funding and student support in one place.

Students can access these resources at any time, and the conservatoire also hosts scheduled live video chat sessions with course leaders and student services teams.

Through a new partnership with the BBC, UCAS is addressing student and applicant concerns around topics such as mental health, changes to the summer results process and common myths about higher education.

Going forward, UCAS plans to work with social mobility charities to develop content that will support underrepresented students in getting the most out of online resources.

Discover University is a new collection of web-based activities and resources to help pupils make informed choices about their future and their potential progression to university, created by the widening participation and UK student recruitment team at the University of Exeter.

The digital programme – which has received positive feedback from schools – includes:

  • a Facebook Live lecture series
  • livestreamed advice and guidance workshops
  • a range of video resources on a dedicated YouTube channel
  • a teacher-focused Twitter feed
  • online subject conferences
  • promotion of existing research and interactive tools to help develop knowledge and skills.

The lecture series, led by academics from a range of different disciplines, covers subjects such as climate change, mental health and Brexit. Meanwhile, live advice and guidance sessions cover topics such as degree apprenticeships, choosing a course, student life and making the most of online open days.

Resources

The OfS – We support prospective students directly through the Discover Uni website, the official, impartial source of data, advice and guidance on higher education in the UK. We manage this site in partnership with the other UK higher education funding bodies and regulators, the Department for the Economy Northern Ireland, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Scottish Funding Council. We also convene an IAG advisory group made up of representatives from many of the organisations listed below. This group works collaboratively to consider what constitutes high-quality IAG, to identify and fill gaps in provision, and to join up work more effectively so that all different student groups are provided for and the full range of options is promoted.

UCAS UCAS provides information, advice and admissions services to guide applicants through the admissions process for higher education courses including undergraduate, conservatoires, teacher training and some postgraduate.

Student Loans Company – The Student Loans Company administers loans and grants to students in universities and colleges in the UK. The company has issued guidance for prospective and current students on student finance during the pandemic. Online services and information on financial support for prospective students are available through the four devolved administration student finance websites.

The Student Room and TSR Insight The Student Room is an online community which links students up with their peers so they can hear from and ask questions of those who are on or have already been through the same decision-making journey as them. It is the largest online engagement platform for students in the UK, with over 10 million monthly users. See also https://tsrmatters.com/

TSR Insight is the research arm of The Student Room, providing market research and insight, products and services, specialising in education and the youth market.

League tables – League tables compile different pieces of information and data and weight them to produce university rankings. Prospective students can use these rankings as part of their wider research to inform their decision about where is the ‘best’ place to study the subject they are interested in, assuming their priorities match those of the league table. Examples include The Guardian's University league tables 2020 and The Complete University Guide's league tables 2021.

Universities and colleges – Individual universities and colleges provide information about their courses, pastoral services and study experience, and put prospective students in touch with staff and current students. Many are also involved in the OfS’s Uni Connect hubs across England, working in partnership with other universities and colleges to provide impartial IAG to young people and their parents. Universities and colleges are also subject to the requirement of consumer protection law and this places obligations on them in relation to the information they provide to prospective students.

Third sector organisations – A wide range of organisations work with schools, colleges and individual students – particularly the most vulnerable – to provide IAG, and to raise aspirations and attainment so that they are better prepared for higher education.

Published 12 June 2020

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