Home »

Wonkhe: Secret life of Students

Did you have the chance to make it to Wonkhe’s Secret Life of Students event? Don’t worry if not, we have the breakdown here for you.

Whether you catch their Wonkhe Monday email as your weekly temperature check on all things HE, listen to their Wonkhe show podcast or go straight to their website articles – team Wonkhe and contributors share some really thought-provoking and useful analysis on HE policy.

In the last couple of years, the team have spoken at events, engaging with members on a range of topics from future-casting, reviewing the year, the PQO/PQA debate and invited a HELOA response on the transitions piece.

HELOA are a professional partner to WONKHE and a HELOA representative was invited to attend the Secret life of Students event as a benefit of our working relationship.

Having worked with the team online the last two years on behalf of HELOA, it was great to meet them in person and to think about takeaways for our members from a range of engaging speakers on doing diversity differently.


The golden thread that was maintained through the event was how we can create belonging in our institutions. Pearson and WONKHE set out their research around this, with 69% of students responding that they feel like they belong to their university and 68% responding that they feel happy at university. There was a strong correlation with belonging and self-reported state of mental health and calls from audience members to outgoing CEO for OfS Nicola Dandridge, to comment on the regulation of mental health support within universities.

Transition points in the student lifecycle were discussed and moving away from the single induction period towards considering each transition in the student lifecycle – from pre-entry to re-entry. Dr Michelle Morgan spoke of “outduction” in her session considering preparedness to become a student, using her Student Experience Transitions Model.

There was also a call for giving students agency so they can have a voice in their teaching and learning and have an affinity for their institution before they enrol, preparing them physically and mentally for their transition to us.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, Vice President for the NUS, spoke of three key takeaways to address belonging- 1. Building trust through reciprocal learning and not belonging as a model of assimilation of student to a university; 2. Agency of students to move, change and flex to adapt in their education environment and 3. Sustainable resource to support what is needed to make changes.

Student manifestos

The UPP Foundation’s Student Futures Commission was established early 2021, led by Mary Curnock Cook. It was formed to ensure that future and current students’ needs were being focussed on during the pandemic and I really recommend reading their Student Future Manifesto report. An area that resonates most perhaps with what HELOA practitioners can action in their roles is the strand “support for students before they reach university”. There has been a collective effort to provide this over the past couple of years, and it would be wonderful to build on these learnings to ensure this is lasting support rather than an “of-the-moment” response. Mary posited that perhaps a co-created Student Futures Manifesto could help tackle the suggested variations to APPs.

What does it all mean for us?

In a packed event, it was interesting to meet and speak to SU Officers, professional services colleagues in Accommodation, Teaching and Learning, Student Services and Widening Participation Practitioners and consider the relevance of this event to pre-entry to university.

  • Co-creation- we read the Student Room Group (TSRG), UCAS and other platforms insights from prospective students, speak to them on the road and may conduct our own focus groups, but do we ask them to guide and input into our activity so it’s what they need? The Office for Students allowed Student Submissions in returns for previous APP monitoring returns and encouraged student input into the 5-year plans, but rather than scrambling around to include this, could the Student Futures Manifesto, and engaging incoming students around what support they need make student voice more embedded?
  • Communication- through our communications to applicants, offer holders and advisers, are we transparent about our entry requirements and the support students will receive once they arrive? Is the support proactive or hard-to-find and in the shiny marketing showcasing how students belong, are we confident that it translates to the experience they’ll have?
  • Collaboration- HELOA exists through fantastic collaboration between colleagues in similar roles across the country sharing best practice and it’s been great to see many brains tackling large challenges presented particularly in the last couple of years to continue to support students. Does this collaboration translate to our own internal teams – or is there a more nuanced approach to the transition between teams recruiting students and those who support them once they arrive?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *