Tag: freshers’ week

Freshers: How to make the most of student life


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Matthew Draycott is not planning to mince his words.

When the new undergraduates arrive for an induction-week pep talk on making the most of their time at university this September, the Enterprise Associate at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning plans to give them both barrels.

“If you spend your time in the pub for three years, then it doesn’t matter if you get a 2:1,” he says, sipping coffee in the university coffee bar.”

“Your degree is no longer the only thing you need to leave university with. You need a set of practical experiences that will give you a competitive edge.”

The department where Draycott works aims to teach students about enterprise, making them more employable and inspiring many to start their own business. “The trend is for students to come to us earlier,” he adds.

“We have seen a big increase in numbers of first years, especially from IT courses, in recent years.”

Extra-curricular activities

Of course, developing interests outside of your course is nothing new.

From playing for a university sports team to chairing the debating society, one of the best aspects of undergraduate life has always been the chance for students to broaden their horizons.

But with graduate unemployment currently at its highest level in over a decade, savvy students are increasingly realising that getting a job is not just about good grades, it’s about making the most of those extra-curricular activities.

“Students now view the university experience as something that leads to work.”

Ed Marsh, National Union of Students (NUS) Vice President for Union Development, adds: “While students are often under increasing time pressure, many having to work part time to fund their studies, extra-curricular activities are now a big part of their thought process.”

So you want to get involved. But what are the best options for you?

Marsh says that, while traditional sports, politics and societies remain popular, he sees more students doing more community outreach work, especially at inner-city universities with more diverse students populations.

During his own undergraduate days at the University of Hull, he volunteered with local schools and nursing homes for the elderly.

Practical skills

Another growth area is student enterprise with students looking to use new skills from their course before they actually graduate.

For the aspiring Sir Alan Sugars and Richard Bransons, it’s a natural progression towards social enterprise. Hushpreet Dhaliwal, Chief Executive, National Consortium of University Entrepreneurs (NACUE) says:

“We can’t be a complacent generation. It’s about being the cause, not the effect.”

“Many students arrive at university not knowing what they want to do in life. You have to expose yourself to all aspects of university life, create your own personal value and build networks from the start,” she adds.

Student-led NACUE works over 70 university enterprise societies across the UK and supports over 85 universities to stimulate student businesses. They recently advised on an Apprentice-style competition, led by students from King’s College London Business Club working with eOffice.

Dhaliwal advocates the smart of use of websites such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

“Social networking helps to build awareness amongst the wider student enterprise community. It offers a fast and efficient means for students expose themselves to new opportunities in career development,” she says.

Global view

But perhaps the smartest students of all are the ones seeing the global picture. University courses in modern languages traditionally include a year of study or work experience overseas as a mandatory third year off campus.

But recent research by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) estimates some 22,000 UK students are currently studying in other countries.

Maastricht University in the Netherlands is fast becoming a hotspot for school leavers turning their backs on the British university system for its winning combination of lower course fees and grants available from the Dutch government if undergraduates work 32 hours a week while they study.

Maastricht University has been sending representatives to a sixth-form careers days over the past year and is installing a fast-track admissions scheme for prospective UK students this summer.

Ed Mash of the NUS says: “We’re competing in a global market and the costs of courses at British universities are now higher than ever. There’s real value,” he adds, “to the individual of having an international perspective.”

Back at the coffee bar, Matthew Draycott is finishing his latte and checking his Twitter account, his favourite way these days of engaging with students and communicating to them the latest news from the student entrepreneurship sector.

“University offers you a privileged three years of flexible identity, so why not do something to put yourself in a position of authority? If you can’t play rugby, be the rugby club treasurer. If you can’t play lead guitar, start managing students bands,” he says.

“Employers are not looking for standard CVs.“

He adds: “They want candidates to reference the opportunities they have grasped and created at university.”

“In short: do it while you can and make sure you have a broad experience.”

This story was first published by the Daily Telegraph in 2011 under the headline, University life: how to make the most of extra-curricular opportunities.

Freshers: How to choose the best options for your student accommodation


For Hasnat Afzal it’s a no brainer.

“I think moving away from home is a huge part of the university experience,” says the 19-year-old pharmaceutical science student from Peterborough, who has just completed his first year at Liverpool John Moores university.

“By making up your own rules away from home, you have a massive sense of independence.”

Stark choices

But many students going up to university this autumn face a stark choice: home or away.

Increased tuition fees and the effect of inflation on family budgets has left many would-be undergraduates considering a university closer to home – maybe even living with their parents.

Pete Mercer, Vice-President of the National Union of Students (NUS), says: “Whilst family commitments, work or other things can make not moving away to study attractive for some students, no-one should have to make the decision of where, and sometimes what, they study based on financial considerations rather than their ambitions or personal circumstances.”

Emyr Williams, Lecturer in Psychology at Glyndwr University, North Wales, agrees. “Exposure to new challenges, to new people, and to new opinions can provide greater independence in the real world,” he says.

“When students remain at home for financial reasons, they limit their opportunity to grow and to develop, and ultimately to gain the independence from the familial home.”

But while May 2012 figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) indicate the number of total applicants for all courses at UK universities is down to 597,473, a 7.7% reduction on the previous May, research shows distance travelled to study is relatively unchanged.

The number of students who travelled less than 24 miles to attend university (UK-domiciles only) actually fell by 0.6% in 2011 to 41.3% of all university acceptances.

The number travelling over 175 miles rose 3.3% for the same period.

Student life

Nevertheless, universities are making increasing efforts to make feel local-born students part of campus life.

For example, the University of Dundee, ranked best in the UK in this year’s Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey, recently completed a £200m campus upgrade and appointed a new Director of Student Operations to co-ordinate such services across the institution.

The self-contained campus, commended for its facilities, students’ union and social activities, is just a few minutes from the centre of Dundee.

“Half our student population comes from within a 50-mile radius but that doesn’t mean these students miss out on the thriving university life,” says Dr Jim McGeorge, the University Secretary.

“We have a special induction before Freshers’ Week to help local-commuting students integrate into campus life, plus we put an emphasis on pastoral support and student representation in decision-making to encourage involvement.”

Dundee was also commended for its accommodation and students who do decide to leave home this autumn will find the days of student bedsits and aging halls of residence are long gone.

The new breed of student accommodation comes with WiFi internet access, en-suite bathrooms and a short hop to the attractions of a city-centre location.

Home from home 

Specialist property investment company, Property Frontiers, currently has nine purpose-built developments in Liverpool, a city with three large universities, University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University and Liverpool Hope University, and a student population of over 70,000.

The latest development is a refurbishment of 19th century former paper mill with 104 en-suite student rooms, an on-site gymnasium, a media services centre and laundry facilities.

“These purpose-built units are marginally more expensive to rent than a room in a communal house – around £100-130 per week – but offer much better facilities and a great location closet to the city and universities,” says MD Ray Withers.

The rise in applications by international students, primarily prospective undergraduates from China, is having a major impact on the trend towards higher-spec students digs.

Chinese students currently make up the largest overseas student group in the UK, contributing around £2bn to the economy.

“International students are looking for higher-spec accommodation and their parents like the security of keypad entry, CCTV monitoring and a porter on duty,” adds Withers.

Jenny Phillips, a probation officer from Liverpool, has invested in six Liverpool properties, two in Arena House by the LiverpoolOne shopping centre and four in the Beacon Building by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

“As a parent, as well as investor, I’d have more confidence about safety and security issues in these new units,” she says.

“The developments are a half-way house between halls of residence and a private, multi-let property. It’s reassuring to know there’s someone there to sort out problems.”

Moving in

Hasnat has spent the last year at Arena House in Liverpool and liked it so much, he and his fellow residents created a Facebook page about their home away from home.

“I chose Liverpool for the cultural offer and the diversity the city offered,” he says.

“I liked Arena House for its cosmopolitan mix of people. The students mingled between the floors and we all felt very secure in the building.”

Now home for summer, he is missing Liverpool and university life. “It’s nice to have some home-cooked meals and get my washing done,” he says.

“But I’m longing for the banter of student life.”

* This article was first published by the Daily Telegraph in 2012 under the headline Plenty of room for manoeuvre.

How to get the first class off to a flyer



I’m about to walk into a classroom where a bunch of complete strangers will look up at me, their faces etched with expectation.

It will be my first class of the new academic year and I’m thinking about how to shake it up a bit.

Over the last few years, teaching journalism on an undergraduate programme in Wales, I’ve tended to give out the module handbook, talk through the assessment and highlight the key texts in that tentative first encounter.

But no more. After a tough year and a bad set of exam results last summer, I feel it’s time for a rethink.

Most lecturers agree the first class is a daunting concept. “It’s like a blind date,” says one colleague from the art department.

“If it goes badly, I always think, ‘We’re not going to make it to desert’.”

Some admit to having the academic’s version of stage fright after several months away from the tutorial room. Others see the first class as a low-impact session, a way to ease the students – and themselves – back into the ebb and flow of education.

Yet most lecturers agree that those first contact hours are crucial to the success of the year overall. There are no second chances.

So how should lecturers approach their impending big entrance with a view to setting the right tone for the year ahead?

After all, new students are probably already drowning in information and bogged down in administration. Returning students are more interested in finding the password for the Wi-Fi than a blow-by-blow account of a field trip in mid November.

There’s a scarcity of good advice about conducting the first class, especially for relatively new HE lecturers, such as myself, who have been recruited from industry.

But one thing is certain: the students will be judging us.

Malcolm Knowles, author of The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy, espouses explaining why you are doing something in terms of both the course content and the process behind it.

Professor John Loughran notes in his book What Expert Teachers Do: Enhancing Professional Knowledge for Classroom Practice, “… the quality of teaching is evident in the teacher’s sensitivity to students’ learning.”

For Peter Gossman, formerly Senior Lecturer in Education at Glyndwr University, the key to a good start is showing that you care.

“Writers on education identify a caring attitude as one of the most important attributes of a good teacher,” he says. “You can do this by being well prepared and using the first class to support the students through an exercise that is representative of the year ahead.”

Gossman also highlights good professional practice, such as encouraging students in a creative manner and motivating them to learn.

“Education is about opportunity and motivation. The institution offers the opportunity but the lecturer has to engender motivation.”

“So do something in week one that motivates them to find out more and actually come back to the second class,” he adds.

So, when I walk into the room and 20 expectant faces look up at me, I’m not going to reach for the paperwork, or play a getting-to-know-you game.

I’ll simply take a deep breath, introduce myself briefly and launch straight into a practical writing exercise that will subtly flag up some of the ground rules for being in my classroom and introduce some fundamental concepts of the course ahead.

Most of all, the subtle message is that I care enough to have thought about how to make a better start to the year and how to meet their individual needs.

And if I care, then so should they.

* This story was first published on the Guardian Higher Education Network website under the headline How to get your first university class off to a flying start.