Addressing fear of the unknown
The award was made in recognition of the University’s success in enabling learners with autism spectrum disorder to enjoy the full higher education experience.
Commonly, support across the higher education sector is focused on academic issues, and not on social and independent living skills. This can lead to some students – particularly those with learning disabilities – feeling uncertain about coming to university.
Recognising this, the Student Wellbeing Service team at Newcastle University set up three initiatives that aim to provide holistic support targeted at every aspect of a student’s experience at university and address their fear of the unknown.
This consisted of a transition event, where students with autism spectrum disorder were offered offers early access to accommodation and events, including the freshers’ fair. This took place alongside workshops to help students develop independent living skills and knowledge of what to expect at university.
A social mentoring scheme was also set up, and allows a student to select an event or club activity and be supported in that by a mentor, who gradually reduces the assistance provided as the student’s confidence and social skills increase.
An autism and Asperger’s support network also gives students access to structured social activities, as well as opportunities to discuss experiences of diagnosis and university life.
Sandy Alden, Team Leader in the Student Wellbeing Service, Newcastle University, said: “This is a fantastic achievement – both for the team, and the students the scheme is helping. In a short space of time, these initiatives have had a real impact and it’s hugely rewarding that this has been recognised with this award.”
The initiatives were introduced in September 2013 and are already bearing fruit, with a 100 per cent retention rate among students who attended the first transition event. To date, more than 70 students have benefitted from the scheme, and every one of them has had positive feedback on the support provided.
The judges said the initiatives showed a “strong understanding of the aim of widening participation”, and praised the mentoring scheme, adding that it “supports the fact that clubs, societies and extracurricular activity have a huge impact on academic success”.
The University was also shortlisted for Widening Participation or Outreach Initiative of the Year.
Spotlight on outstanding achievement
The awards, now in their eleventh year, are widely recognised as the ‘Oscars of the higher education sector’, shining a spotlight on the outstanding achievements of institutions, teams and individuals in the UK higher education sector.
The victory of the Newcastle team was witnessed by more than 1,100 people, who gathered at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane for the awards, hosted by comedian Rory Bremner. The Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson MP, joined universities from all over the country to celebrate the greatest ideas, the finest practice and the very best researchers and teachers in the sector.
See coverage of the awards, profiles of the winners, and photos from the evening, on the THE Awards website.
The Student Wellbeing Service website has more information about the support available for students at Newcastle University.
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