James Elander

  • The FE-HE Transition: What Changes?

    Professor James Elander, University of Derby, Ed Foster and Rebecca Bell, Nottingham Trent University

    Conceptual paper

    Themes: teaching methods, assessment methods, skills development and lifelong learning, diversity and inclusivity, supporting learners

    Monday 7 September 2009, 15.45 - 16.45 in room G61

    Many students in UK universities do not feel sufficiently prepared for degree level study by their prior education, and university tutors feel similarly that students are lacking in essential skills. Not all students experience significant problems on entering Higher Education, but with more students now entering HE from a greater range of backgrounds than ever before, the numbers who experience difficulties or require support are increasing, and problematic transitions can impact significantly on student engagement, retention, achievement and satisfaction.

    Considerable research has now been conducted on issues related to the FE-HE transition, including comparative studies of teaching methods, student learning styles, and student understandings of what is required in university written assignments. Numerous interventions aiming to support students in the transition from FE to HE have also been evaluated. However, a consensus has not been reached about the characteristics of the key factors that must change for a student to make a successful transition to HE.  For example, are the key factors skills, learning styles, or epistemological beliefs? The answers to questions like that have important implications for the types of transition support that are most likely to be effective.

    This paper will present a conceptual model of the transition process, based on a comprehensive review of the research literature on factors that potentially affect the transition to HE, and evaluations of interventions to improve student transition experiences. The model identifies key factors in successful transitions, and attempts to answer the question ‘what changes?’ in successful transitions to HE.

    In the course of addressing this question, the model also addresses a number of key empirical and conceptual issues, including:

    • What academic practices change across the FE-HE transition? – we will particularly explore those associated with writing and feedback.
    • Are there critical or sensitive change points, or do successful transitions involve a more gradual process of adjustment?
    • How do individual change processes interact with social factors, and are different types of support required for students entering HE from different backgrounds?
    • To what extent is there a consensus, within and across sectors, about what constitutes a successful transition, and how successfully ‘transitioned’ students should be identified?
    • What are the important differences between student and tutor perspectives in the transition process, and how do those differences impact on how students and tutors communicate with one another about learning in HE?

    The paper will also explore the implications of this conceptual model for ways that practitioners in the FE and HE sectors could work together to improve shared understandings of the transition process.