Our feedback from the QAA Student Transitions conference in June


The QAA International Conference on Enhancement and Innovation in Higher Education was well attended by Edinburgh Napier University Staff and Students alike, with 13 presentations and 5 posters over the course of the three days.  While the sun sparkled on the Clyde outside the venue showing Glasgow in its very best colours, our colleagues and students sparkled inside sharing their practice, their research and their reflections of student transitions.   Congratulations to everyone for ensuring that Edinburgh Napier were so expertly represented.  What’s more – given that there were around 600 delegates over three days it’s rather amazing to see that we are quite so well represented in the photo gallery from the conference which you can link to at http://enhancementthemes.ac.uk/conference/conference-resources 🙂

There is absolutely no doubt that our students rose to the challenge of presenting at an International conference (a first for most of them), and if there was any stage fright – it didn’t show. 

Thank you for your conference take-aways


Thanks to everyone who responded to our request for you to send us your ‘Conference take-aways’  – not everyone was able to take time away from Edinburgh to attend, so we hope that you find it interesting to hear from some of us who can informally report back as delegates.  We’ve tried to capture the frequently occurring themes in the word cloud above and we love how ‘students’ feature so strongly in your responses; both the student as an individuals and as a group. Several of you commented on the centrality of the student learning experience to all developments in and around student transitions (thanks Maxine and others).  The concept of belonging to the wider University community (thanks Paddy and others)  and the importance of students’ self-efficacy (thanks Ursula and others) as well the diverse range of transitions experienced by students into University, between years and into the workplace was another recurring theme.


 “The presentations by both Keynote speakers who shared similar perspectives on the components of student success. The centrality of the student learning experience and the use of effective educational practices is something in particular I brought back to share with Bill Buchanan and Stephen Robertson as we are due to present at the University LTA conference on the subject of Excellence in teaching. There were clear links apparent from this approach too in relation to NSA’s work with student representatives, sports and societies participants, and our Volunteering initiatives and the opportunities these activities present to students to allow them to develop the  ‘deep integrative learning’ and ‘cross-cutting skills’ that George Khu talked about.

I thought the idea of ‘harnessing the curriculum’ as the lynchpin of student learning and the means through which we organise students ‘to do’ chimed well with ENUs move to a programme focus. It was also suggested that through the programme/curriculum Institutions can promote social inclusion

In particular, Stirling Students’ Union (SSU) session on their conference for “non-traditional” students was very interesting, as NSA is in the process in organising an event for Direct Entrant students. Their conference sought to engage with and benefit non-traditional students already in Higher Education, and, to reach out and engage with those non-traditional students considering HE, as well as those who thought HE wasn’t possible for them due to their non-traditional status. With the conference they wanted to increase opportunities for widening access and enhance curriculum flexibility while building partnerships with schools. Overall, SSU provided us with food for thought, especially when it comes to evaluating the event.

The session on Student “Transitions into Independent Learning” was also of great interest. Independent learning is a key graduate attribute which demonstrates transferable skills. Their research showed the need to direct independent learning through integrating it into programmes and ensuring its benefits are clearly communicated to students. These benefits include the development of deep understanding, taking personal responsibility for learning, and the enhancement of skills expected of graduates. With NSA providing a clear structure and ongoing support for students, I think this is something we can incorporate into our School Rep Programme to enhance the student experience.

The conference was a valuable tool in affirming the activities delivered by NSA and ENU as part of the Student Partnership Agreement. NSA will be integral through our Representation model, Team Napier and VBase in the delivery and evaluation of skills development opportunities categorised by George Kuh on day two as High Impact Educational Practices (HIPs) and endeavours to work across ENU to help students access the best HIP for them”.

 Keynote Speakers

Professor Sally Kift
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at James Cook University, and President of the Australian Learning and Teaching Fellows (ALTF)

Angela Constance MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning, Scottish Government

Jim McColl OBE
Chairman and Chief Executive, Clyde Blowers Ltd

Professor George Kuh
Research Professor of Education Policy at the University of Illinois, and Chancellor’s Professor of Higher Education Emeritus at Indiana University Bloomington

Alice Brown
Chair of the Scottish Funding Council

Veronica Bamber
Director of the Centre for Academic Practice, at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh



The opening keynote speaker Professor Sally Kift from James Cook University, Queensland, Australia drew upon Bridge’s model of transition, which has been further developed by her colleagues. The importance of the first year for students in terms of setting the scene for the rest of their time in University was highlighted.  Essentially, Sally emphasized that we need a whole institutional approach to ensure the success of students into, during and out of University, moving from “a deficit model of student blame to a focus of inclusion and success”. Sally also spoke at Queen Margaret University’s conference on Transitions, Identity and Belonging on Friday 13th June 2015. Her presentation can be accessed through the following link:


The video extract she included was part of a longer dvd, which can also be accessed here:


The second keynote speaker, Professor George Kuh from the University of Illinois focused on High Impact Practices (HIP’s) and deep/integrative learning for students to achieve success through developing the skills of reflection, integration and application. Kuh quoted Anthony Carnevale from Georgetown University about key capabilities opening the door for career success and earnings: “Irrespective of college major or institutional selectivity, what matters to career success is students’ development of a broad set of cross-cutting capacities”. Essentially, Kuh emphasized that narrow learning is not enough and that students require knowledge of human cultures, the physical and natural world, intellectual and practical skills, personal and social responsibility and deep/integrative learning.

George also delivered his presentation at QMU on the Friday. His presentation and those of the other speakers can be accessed at:


What’s next?

Finally, before we sign off, we would like you to join us in thinking about ‘what next?’.  Where do we take all this fabulous thinking and inspiring talk that we all enjoyed so much?

We asked Cathy Lambert to start us off in our thinking in this blog – (thanks Cathy). Cathy

I would like to see us review our approach to programme focus, curriculum redesign and transition support with academic colleagues and professional service staff (with student reps) getting ‘round the table’.

We also need to review our approach to widening participation and adopt a more holistic approach. S&AS will be leading this work over the next few months working with colleagues to flush out the  framework.


We’d love to hear from you on the blog so do post a comment (below), or you can get in touch with your Institutional Theme Representative to share any ideas you have for how we make the all important step change to our transitions practice and how we can add to the list that Cathy has started here.   Julia, Imi and Amy are always happy to help.

Julia Fotheringham – J.Fotheringham@napier.ac.uk Ext 6468

Imi Dencer-Brown – I.Dencer-Brown@napier.ac.uk Ext 2910

Amy Bostock – A.Bostock@napier.ac.uk Ext 6353





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