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Enhancing the transition of non-traditional students (ENTRANTS)

Project Start Date: 2020-10-01

Project End Date: 2023-07-31

A lacking sense of belonging within higher education, both regarding connections to fellow students as well as the identification with the institution and academic life itself, represents one of the three major reasons students drop out and break off their higher education experience. Especially for under-represented groups, such as first-in-family students or those with migration or BME background, mature students or women in STEM, feeling out of place can be considered the main reason for student departure, more so than academic difficulties or having chosen the wrong study programme.

The project’s objective is to increase this sense of belonging of under-represented groups while at the same time avoiding the triggering of “Othering”-effects or stereotype threat. Measures aiming at specific “vulnerable” groups often prove unsuccessful and are not taken on by the targeted groups due to a degree of stigmatisation associated with it. Also, accessing and acknowledging the need for support in case one feels isolated or disoriented is often associated with a high threshold, especially among non-traditional students who are generally more reluctant to ask for support. Thus, instead of developing measures exclusively for specific groups of students, the project takes an anti-categorial approach addressing all beginner students alike: it strongly relies on initiating and fostering exchange between different student groups (especially between non-traditional and traditional students) and provides anonymously available issue-based support.

To reach the objective the following project outputs will be developed:

  1. a programme for an obligatory COMMUNITY BUILDING COURSE for first-semester students which will be carried out at all three participating HEI. The course aims at initiating and encouraging exchange among new students, establishing more tightly relationships by didactically focusing on changing group formations, but also by empowering students to act as experts in their own right. Further, by making the institution a subject of inquiry it is hoped to achieve a stronger identification with the institution.
  2. an online STUDENT EXPERIENCE PLATFORM. The anonymously available content of the web-based platform will offer interactive content with a strong focus on sharing and relating experiences of other students (via podcasts, video material, etc.). Further, it will also bundle relevant information on belonging issues – which is currently not available – in one site. Students participating in O3 will be exposed to the platform which is intended to function as a natural companion through student life.
  3. STAFF TRAINING. To establish and maintain a sense of belonging it is vital that students are met with staff sensitised to their needs. In two formats, one for teaching staff, the other for administrative staff, issues of unconscious bias and the importance of belonging will be addressed, ultimately enabling staff to recognise and deal with problems arising out of a lacking integration into the HEI.


FH OÖ Management GmbH Austria

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