How are universities supporting finalists this year?

The AUA’s Student Experience and Engagement network has launched its monthly Coffee Break catch-up series; an opportunity for those working in the fields of student experience and engagement to get together on a regular basis and share what they’re working on.

Our first event in the series took place on Thursday 6 May and focused on how institutions are supporting finalist students in the midst of the pandemic. You can find a summary of some of the discussions from that event below.

Our next Coffee Break event is on Thursday 10th June from 3 – 4pm. We’ll be having an open conversation about Welcome and Induction with Melissa Mulhall, the Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor Academic Planning at Bath Spa University. You can sign up to the event for free here.

What approaches are institutions taking to Graduation?

– Generally unis are not running in person graduation ceremonies this year, largely down to the amount of uncertainty the next few months will bring and nobody really knows what large scale events will look like after June 21

– Only one uni in the group is running full, in-person ceremonies for 2020 and 2021 cohorts, but recognising that there are already challenges with students giving feedback around being nervous to attend, not feeling that it’s acceptable to have ceremonies that are tweaked for social distancing and also the cost of guest tickets

– One is because they’re hoping to run the graduations later in the year (November)

– Staff are missing being able to run ceremonies – because it’s such a lovely time of year on campus with everyone celebrating

– One institution is running a small graduation for about 50 of their students, given their size

– A lot of pressure from students about tuition fees and value for money – they deserve something – even if the decision institutionally is to run not graduation ceremonies

– One uni did a survey to find out what students were feeling about graduation, and it uncovered that 2020 cohort would still be happy to attend an in-person ceremony even if it was delayed until 2022

– Some institutions have stopped promising a graduation ceremony due to the high backlog – but are offering some form of celebration event – even if it’s not a graduation ceremony. Most institutions are still promising this. One institution talked about their plans to stagger this – i.e. 2020 graduates in March 2022, 2021 Grads in May and then 2022 grads in July

– It’s very hard to run a good online graduation – one institution talked about their challenges of organising it on Zoom (breakout rooms didn’t really work as they didn’t have academic staff involved and people got mixed up into different breakout rooms on different programme. Also hard to organise stuff online because of the varied sizes of programmes.

How else are finalists being supported and celebrated?

– Some institutions are running ‘celebrations’ to make up for the cancelled ceremonies – some in-person things that are a bit more low key

– A few institutions are producing videos to celebrate their finalists – either at an institutional level, or working within Departments

– One institution is running a graduate development programme led by careers. This ‘outduction’, as it was coined, would prepare students for all aspects of life outside of education. This would run as two virtual events – one in June, one in July so that students who are thinking about these things sooner are able to attend then there’s something for those who need a bit more time to consider what life will bring post-uni. Raising awareness of the 2 year graduate support package on offer. Messages focused on graduate attitudes – explore, plan and apply

– Finalists week – focus on social media and email campaigns, top tips for students who are graduating, series of subject specific emails from careers advisors, emphasis on support available now and after students graduate.

– QAA are looking for examples of work being done to support students in their transition out of university – find that most focus on the transition into or across HE levels.

– It was recognised that while COVID-19 has meant that in person events and activations haven’t been able to happen (and that it’s also limited departments within unis from collaborating on finalists initiatives), it has also been a positive as it has allowed some to have a bit more creative space to think about what they want to offer, and has accelerated the need to supports students as they leave uni

– Unis would like to offer more fun activities for final year students as well as the informative/practical things. Challenge in 2021 but hoping to make more of this angle in 2022

Some other activities that institutions we’re hoping to run include:

– Online presentations for final year projects

– Musical Bingo facilitated by an external company

– On campus celebration with photo booths, food stalls etc.

– Virtual DJ sets, on a virtual platform, allowing students to submit requests and interact with one another

There was also discussion around some of the virtual platforms/providers that have been used or investigated to support opportunities: 

– Edumundo – Management Simulations

– Gatherly – Online Event Platform

– Gather – Video-calling space

– Mix Cloud – Online music streaming service

– Native – Events facilitator