This toolkit is a practical and educational resource for Student Services professionals who want to help develop students’ resilience to stress, anxiety and similar barriers to achievement and success in higher education. AMOSSHE, The Student Services Organisation and Unite Students developed the toolkit as a collaborative project. The aim of the project is to extend higher education sector knowledge about how student resilience can be developed.
The project was made possible by funding from Unite Students, and builds on the theoretical model published in Student Resilience: Exploring the positive case for resilience report by Unite Students (May 2017). This report, based on a survey of over 6,500 UK students, explores the positive case for resilience. AMOSSHE and Unite Students acknowledge that the concept of resilience is a hotly contested one, at least in the way it applies to students studying in higher education, and must be treated with caution. There is more work to be done to build the evidence base and to reach a workable, productive definition of the term as it applies to students and universities. The term must not, in any way, be used to label students or place abject judgements or limitations on their abilities. Rather, our exploration of resilience relates more closely to the environment we provide for our students, both social and physical, and how that supports students to achieve their potential.
This toolkit advocates a positive, proactive approach to resilience, as outlined in the Student Resilience report, rather than a deficit model. Higher education providers can do a great deal to develop a supportive and enabling culture for their students, by making improvements to their physical and social environment.
What’s the research background?
The Unite Students research provided some strong findings about student wellbeing, mental health and resilience. Subsequent analysis of the dataset, together with a literature review by Dr Emily McIntosh (University of Bolton), highlighted the role that a cluster of internal and external factors can play in student wellbeing and success, as follows.
- Self-management – including goal setting and persistence.
- Emotional control – the ability to avoid dwelling on negative experiences, and to manage reactions to situations.
External “protective” factors:
- Social integration – the extent to which respondents rated themselves as being integrated with some groups of other students, such as those in their flat or house, or on their course.
- Support networks – the extent to which respondents felt they could turn to formal or informal support networks.
- Social relationships – happiness with existing relationships (including family and friends from home), self-perception of their inclusion in friendship groups compared to others, and the depth of friendships with other students.
Taken together, these factors provide a working definition of “resilience”, because they appear to play a measurable role in student mental wellbeing. These factors inform the organisation of this toolkit’s resources into three key approaches: social, self-management, and emotional balance.
How was the toolkit developed?
The project to develop the initial toolkit was undertaken in 2017. A project steering group consisting of AMOSSHE Executive members and sector experts employed a researcher to look for items for inclusion in the toolkit. These resources included case studies, research reports, intervention tools, and learning materials. Academic papers were considered for inclusion if they had the potential to help professionals develop their practice in supporting student resilience. The resources were primarily sourced from the UK higher education sector, but also included items from other higher education contexts (for example, Australia, USA) and from the UK further education and schools sectors.
Resources were included in the toolkit if they met all of the following criteria:
- Is the resource of interest and use to professionals working in higher education (primarily Student Services professionals, but also academic tutors, senior leaders and suchlike)?
- Does the resource relate to one or more of the resilience toolkit approaches, as defined in the Unite Students Student Resilience report?
- Is the resource applicable to the UK higher education sector?
Thought pieces without any underpinning evidence base were not considered for inclusion.
The initial research identified a wide range of materials, which were summarised, and categorised according to the overarching approaches to developing student resilience. The project steering group reviewed the resources for practical applicability and usefulness. Some of the research included in the toolkit is academic, but most is practical, because the purpose of the toolkit is for people to utilise the materials to deliver interventions and develop strategy in their institutions.
The project team and steering group were:
- Fay Sherrington (AMOSSHE Vice Chair and Director of Student Services, Edge Hill University)
- Nicole Redman (AMOSSHE Vice Chair (Operations) and Director of Support Services, University of East London)
- Nic Streatfield (AMOSSHE Executive Member and Head of Student Services, York St John University)
- John Bloomfield (Executive Director, AMOSSHE)
- Jenny Shaw (Head of HE Engagement and Student Services, Unite Students)
- Emily McIntosh (Director of Student Life, University of Bolton)
- Rosie Tressler (Chief Executive, Student Minds)
- Brian Hipkin (CEO, ReFrame HE Consultancy Ltd)
- Esther McMahon (researcher)
How will the toolkit develop in future?
The toolkit is designed to be a living resource bank that grows as more resources become available.
As part of the initial project, AMOSSHE and Unite Students supported a series of Student Services projects related to the theme “student resilience in an accommodation setting”. AMOSSHE member institutions carried out these projects, and the project outcomes will contribute to the toolkit resources (find out more about the projects on the AMOSSHE website).
AMOSSHE will also continue to add resources to the toolkit from across the UK and international student support sectors. Do you have a resource to contribute to the toolkit? If so, please get in touch here: contribute.
AMOSSHE, The Student Services Organisation, informs and supports the leaders of Student Services in the UK, and represents, advocates for and promotes the student experience worldwide.
AMOSSHE is a professional membership association for leaders of Student Services in UK higher education. Student Services departments in nearly all publicly funded UK higher education providers are members of AMOSSHE, as well as several overseas universities. Find out more.
About Unite Students
Unite Students is the UK’s largest manager and developer of purpose-built student accommodation serving the country’s world-leading higher education sector. Unite currently provide homes for almost 50,000 students in more than 140 properties across 24 leading university towns and cities in England and Scotland. Staff in Unite Students properties are driven to provide a ‘Home For Success’ and to be the most trusted brand in the sector. Unite offers high quality, safe and secure accommodation with 24-hour security, all-inclusive bills, and an app called MyUnite where students can access practical support such as instant messaging and maintenance requests. They currently partner with 60 higher education institutions, building strong partnerships to improve Student Services links and signposting. Find out more.