Key findings

Ninety hours of transcribed qualitative data (390,000 words) were analysed using the Kahu framework of student engagement as a reference model. The analysis led to six propositions expressed as narratives or stories about the 21st Century student experience.  A robust process of data verification resulted in the initial six stories being refined into five key findings.

The key findings reveal new and exciting information about the student experience, and how curricula and co-curricular initiatives shape student experiences of higher education. The key findings have been translated into implications for practice and these lessons are available for immediate take-up across the sector.

Critical first encounters

When students encounter intentionally designed curriculum and support interventions, student emotion is enhanced and positive psychosocial (motivation, skills, self-efficacy and identity) responses are triggered.

What this means in practice is that the design and implementation of curricula and co-curricula initiatives should intentionally activate motivation, skills, identity and self efficacy.

Compensatory effect

Positive psychosocial influences increase student engagement and reduce the impact of previous disadvantage and structural risk factors.

What this means in practice is that the design and implementation of interventions to enable students should promote motivation, skills, identity and self efficacy.

Constructive cycle

Positive psychosocial responses increase student engagement, which in turn increases learning outcomes, student satisfaction and well-being.

What this means in practice is that initiatives should focus on and engender positive psychosocial responses.

Capacity building

Student engagement increases students’ academic and social outcomes, and builds capacity for post-university contributions/life.

What this means in practice is that initiatives designed to improve student outcomes should focus on student engagement.

Cultural change

Achievement, satisfaction and retention generate enduring changes, which can break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and therefore bridge sociocultural incongruence between under-represented groups, and university cultures and systems.

What this means in practice is that improving the outcomes for current students will also redress inherent inequalities.

Recommendations for institutions

  1. Design and enact administrative practices, including admissions pathways, to ensure all students are able to participate fully in the university’s formal and informal activities.
  2. Intentionally design all curricula and co-curricular activities to activate student motivation, build academic skills, promote discipline and student identity, and develop students’ self-efficacy.
  3. Design and universally implement curricula and co-curricular interventions to ensure that previous disadvantage and structural risk factors are mitigated through systematic institutional practices that privilege behavioural, cognitive and affective student engagement.
  4. Assure quality in learning, teaching and student experience practices, measured by positive student learning outcomes and achievement, and high levels of student satisfaction and well-being.
  5. Focus, within discipline curricula, on developing future-proof employability skills, including advanced digital literacy, enterprise skills and entrepreneurship.
  6. Minimise the socio-cultural incongruence between communities and higher education institutions, through sustained attention to cultural, structural and practical organisational change.

Advice for the sector

  1. Provide access to information about students’ movements, over time and among institutions.
  2. Review the learner engagement scale in the Student Experience Survey (SES) to ensure the collection of data is aligned with contemporary understandings of student engagement.
  3. Review indicators in student and graduate surveys, to ensure the collection of information about students’ engagement, experience and skills is aligned with the key findings of this study.

This A3 PDF outlines the project findings and recommendations.