One size does not fit all – a holistic approach to helping a diverse student population make the successful transition to academic life in an Irish Institute of Higher Education.

Howley, Helen, Kelly, Eimear and Walsh, Aoife (2014) One size does not fit all – a holistic approach to helping a diverse student population make the successful transition to academic life in an Irish Institute of Higher Education. In: European First Year Experience, Nottingham June 2014, Nottingham, United Kingdom.


The student population in Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) has become increasingly diverse over the past decade. The current first year cohort includes school leavers, students from further education, mature students, and students with disabilities. In addition, AIT has become an internationally focused institute with students from 72 countries worldwide. Responding appropriately to the social and academic needs of these students and developing a first year experience requires institutes of higher education to develop a variety of strategies and interventions that promote a sense of belonging, thereby assisting student success (Andrews, 2012). Recent national and European publications have similarly stressed the need for students to engage in their studies and college life as quickly as possible. Higher Education Institutes have also been encouraged to capitalise on their reputations and attractiveness by developing better services to receive and support international students (Department of Education and Skills, 2011; European Commission, 2013; High Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education, 2013). This show and tell session will focus on three core areas within AIT which have collaborated to develop strategies in accordance with these requirements, helping students to make the transition to third level; namely the Student Resource Centre, the Learning and Teaching Unit and the International Office. The Student Resource Centre provides a number of programmes to first year students, two of which will be presented. The first is AIT Engage, a unique feature of the Induction Programme at the institute; this pilot scheme is aimed at promoting student engagement and integration throughout the college. Features include clubs and societies, volunteering and social responsibility. The second programme, Peer Assisted Student Support (PASS), involves second year student leaders facilitating weekly study sessions with first years from the same discipline. Among its aims, PASS is intended to help first years adjust quickly to higher education. Together these programmes address social and academic integration, which improves student retention (Tinto, 1975). The Learning and Teaching Unit provides opportunities for staff development, with an emphasis on developing and supporting an inclusive curriculum based on the principles of universal design. Through both accredited and non-accredited courses, lecturing staff are encouraged to consider the use of learning, teaching and assessment strategies appropriate to students from diverse Background s. In addition, the unit has been a catalyst for first year focused initiatives such as the development of an institute-wide Learning to Learn module which aims to support first year students in their transition to becoming independent learners in higher education by enabling them to develop a range of skills and strategies essential for success at this level. With assistance from the International Office, AIT has implemented a series of academic and social initiatives to support international students. Similar to the Learning to Learn module, the Developing Academic Practice module has been specifically designed for international students to familiarise them with the academic culture of an English-speaking institution and to provide them with an opportunity to develop and practice crucial academic skills. In addition, English classes are offered throughout the academic year. Informal cross-departmental meetings between Irish and international students, as well as the activities of the International Society, allow all students the opportunity to benefit from intercultural interaction.

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