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20 May 2021

Supporting student transitions - preparing for university during a pandemic


Heather Monsey
Outreach Officer, University of East Anglia

In the first of two connected blogs focused on student transitions, Heather Monsey explains how the University of East Anglia is helping to support incoming students with a free-to-access pre-arrival skills programme. In the second blog, Dr Harriet Jones reflects on student expectations heading into academic year 2021-22 and how students adjust to higher education post arrival.


This blog was produced as part of QAA Membership’s new student transitions activity. A collection of new and curated resources focused on supporting student transitions into, through and out of higher education will be launched shortly.


With huge disruption to students’ learning over the past year, there are growing concerns about how prepared students are for university. Consequently, student transition is a hot topic within higher education and providing the right support to students is more important than ever.


It is well documented that support at the beginning of a student’s academic life is crucial for both student success and retention, particularly for students from non-traditional backgrounds. A lack of preparedness for university study and misconstrued expectations surrounding the university experience are both common factors that can lead to a student withdrawing from higher education. 


Pre-arrival/post arrival


Student transition is a complex process and often involves numerous touchpoints on a student’s journey to higher education, as well as support from multiple teams across the university. Typically across the sector, universities categorise the transition period into two stages. The first, pre-arrival, runs from acceptance of offer through to welcome week. This stage is usually supported through applicant days, marketing, and recruitment and outreach teams. The second, post-arrival, stems from welcome week through to the end of the first year. The post-arrival period is typically supported by academics, students’ unions and student support services.


The student also has to navigate both a social and academic side to their transition. The social aspect could involve forming new peer relationships, developing a sense of belonging to the institution, modifying existing relationships with friends and family, and getting to grips with crucial life skills such as budgeting. The academic side to transition involves them familiarising themselves with a new way of learning and developing the key skills needed to succeed on their course. Both of these are mutually beneficial, as failure to address one is highly likely to impact the other.  


Key skills to support transitions into university


With the transition process being a complex one, I wanted to highlight a resource that could be of use to your institution. Focusing on the academic side of student transition, University of East Anglia (UEA) has developed a Preparing for University MOOC, hosted on FutureLearn. This is a free course which is openly accessible to all students looking to enter into higher education. The content is not specific to UEA and is promoted to students as a pre-arrival programme regardless of what institution they are planning to attend. It has been designed to be suitable for students across different Level 3 qualifications, for example, access, BTEC, A level, and international equivalents.


Developed with staff and students across the University, as well as with contributions from local schools, the MOOC covers the key skills students will need to support their transition to university. The seven-week programme covers: asking questions, independent study, persuasive writing, structuring writing, textual analysis, using data, and references. Since its origin in 2013, the course has been completed by 75,000 students from over 200 countries.  Recent evaluation of the course has found a positive impact on participants’ skills and understanding of university processes, and we hope to expand on this evaluation to investigate the long-term impact of the programme.


One of the main benefits of the MOOC is the flexibility of its delivery. A Level 3 student can work through the content on their own before arriving at university, or it can be teacher facilitated. To support this, we have produced lesson plans to accompany the MOOC to enable teachers to embed the programme into their existing tutorial programme. This not only benefits the students when they arrive at university, but the skills learned also add value to their existing Level 3 studies.


Although originally designed to support transition pre-arrival, the course can also be used by academics and support teams at university and integrated into the induction programme. It can be shared by your university outreach teams with your school networks to be used pre-arrival, or used as a guide to help set-up your own resource.


We are continually looking at ways to update the Preparing for University MOOC in line with evaluation and best practice across the sector. If your institution is looking at developing your own programme, please do get in touch by email:


We would be happy to support and share good practice on implementing online transition materials.