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Improving the Transition to Higher Education report: 4 things we learned

8 May 2024

Published today, our latest report ‘Improving the Transition to Higher Education’ is a joint initiative between Unite Students and the Higher Education Student Support Champion, Professor Edward Peck. Based on a series of expert roundtables and individual interviews, together with desk research and sector case studies, it draws together key challenges and recommendations for schools, colleges and universities.

Co-author Jenny Shaw takes a look at some of the implications for student accommodation.


Anyone who works or lives with young people knows that the Covid pandemic has left a lasting impact. While many coped well, and some thrived, others were negatively affected in ways that are still emerging. For example, a recent study by the Institute of Education found that 42% of 12-15 year olds experienced a decline in their social and emotional development during the pandemic.

Together with the continued rise in mental ill-health and the ongoing cost of living crisis, schools, colleges and universities are having to work hard to keep pace with students’ changing needs. And that’s why we worked with Professor Edward Peck to pull together this report – to look at how those needs have changed and the ways in which the sector can better meet those needs.

If you’re short on time and just need a summary of the report, here are four key takeaways from the recommendations that are relevant to student accommodation teams.


More focus on engagement and belonging

New students are expected to get to grips with new ways of learning when they are also living independently for the first time and making new friends. This can be overwhelming, and the report recommends that there should first be a focus on developing a sense of belonging and engagement with the university community. This might include a longer settling-in period in accommodation and on campus, with new study skills being introduced over an extended period of time.


Make social integration more coherent

Given the impact of the pandemic on young people’s social development, the report recommends going further to make sure opportunities for social integration are co-ordinated and coherent in the first few weeks of term.

Accommodation teams and private providers have an important role to play in helping resident students settle in and make friends. Closer collaboration with other parts of the university, including student unions and academic departments, and joint approaches to communication, could make it easier for students find the most appropriate events and opportunities. While this will help all students to find what they need, it may be especially helpful for neurodivergent students.


Targeted and creative approaches to the cost of living crisis can make a real difference

We’re all aware of how much the cost of living crisis has affected students. In the first few weeks, money worries can limit students’ opportunities to socialise and make it more challenging to live independently. Small, creative initiatives can make a real difference for students in those vital first weeks and we know that there are some great examples out there.

Please do take every opportunity to share what has worked for your students, and if we can help you to share them more widely that then please do get in touch.


An inclusive approach is vital

The report promotes the need to go the extra mile to ensure every student is able to feel welcome and at home. Student life can be very alienating at first for students who feel different from those around them. Drawing on a case study on the University of Kent’s “Living Black at Kent” initiative, the report makes the case for greater consideration of students’ cultural needs.

In the long aftermath of the pandemic, student accommodation has an increasingly important role to play in giving students a safe and sociable base at the start of their student life, which really is the bedrock of student wellbeing and academic success.

At Unite Students, we already have plenty on offer to support students when they arrive at universitypeer support from our Resident Ambassadors, the CARE principles for our teams which create a supportive environment in our buildings, 24/7 access to clinical support through our Student Assistance Programme, our Black services directory to signpost students to culturally relevant services in their city but we’re always looking at ways to improve the support that we offer new students. 


Download our ‘Improving the Transition to Higher Education’ report now.

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