How our Study Together programme promotes belonging and improves well-being

By offering students a space to meet, study and socialise outside the classroom, universities can improve engagement and reduce feelings of loneliness on campus

Gemma Standen's avatar
2 Feb 2024
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Students playing table tennis

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

University of East Anglia

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Student support provision plays a crucial role for the mental health, well-being and success of students throughout their time at university. However, engagement with associated services can vary depending on a range of factors. For example, mature and commuting students tend to struggle with adjusting to university life and are less likely to engage with wider opportunities due to work, family and personal commitments.

Studies of student engagement and continuation have stressed the importance of representation and belonging within higher education. Centralising support or providing a one-stop shop that offers various layers of support can help to promote wider engagement with services and strengthen a sense of belonging. To achieve this, we need to understand students’ individual experiences, challenges and barriers and help break cycles of disengagement. That is why we established Study Together – a weekly workshop that supports all students with learning, well-being and networking – at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Here, we share our findings from running this programme.

Background to UEA’s Study Together programme

UEA’s outreach and learning enhancement teams established Study Together to provide an inclusive space for students to drop in, study and meet one another when returning to campus after the pandemic. The learning enhancement team already ran multiple study-related interventions, such as study cafes, maths and stats workshops, peer-assisted learning programmes and one-to-one support, and the outreach team focused on building student networks. We decided to join these opportunities together to provide a more relaxed environment for students to study and/or network.

Initially, we offered the programme during term time to small numbers of students who attended regularly. But soon, they began requesting sessions outside term time. Over the past 12 months, Study Together began incorporating crafting sessions, where we invite students to choose an activity to work on, such as cross-stitching, felting or journal-making. This broadened the programme further so students feeling overwhelmed with their studies could let off steam with their peers.

To implement such an intervention you would need an accessible space, a regular time slot and facilitators who have good knowledge of internal sources of support. Students can choose when to engage and how often, and making these activities regular increases the chances of repeated visits. Activities you could offer students could include arts and crafts sessions, film or popular programme viewings, and low-impact sports such as badminton. Some students may simply choose to drop in and chat with their peers. Around assessment periods, it’s a good idea to offer additional activities, such as table tennis or cards, to help them decompress and socialise between stints of revision.

The benefits of offering a programme such as this include:

Networking opportunities

Students are keen to meet others they can relate to on their courses and within the wider university community but find that the classroom isn’t the right place to do it. Not everyone wants to go to club nights or play sports to meet other students and may opt, instead, to do something more laid back. Furthermore, for those who might not have a network of friends on campus, these kinds of activities can reduce feelings of loneliness by providing an opportunity to meet other students outside their subjects of study and interests.

These positive interactions can carry wider effects into the educational community. We have seen students encouraging their friends to come along and get involved and witnessed some amazing transformations throughout the past two years, with students initially feeding back that they didn’t feel confident in their skills and later flourishing into advocates who support their peers.

This year, some of our regular attendees completed their courses and used the summer sessions to update us on their exciting achievements and future intentions. Many acknowledged that over time, they started to look forward to Study Together sessions and that participating made them feel like part of something bigger than their courses.

Having student advocates to provide peer support within an educational community offers huge benefits such as supporting other students with soft skills and study technique development. These advocates can signpost students to important resources, building trust and increasing engagement.

Creating a sticky campus

A sticky campus incorporates the concept of students being on campus for longer periods outside their contact hours, regardless of their living situations. Essentially, this means creating an environment where students will want to come and stay. In creating a sticky campus through interventions such as Study Together, universities can provide inclusive and enjoyable learning environments and can help students feel a sense of belonging.

The benefits of Study Together are far-reaching, but a staff favourite is the opportunity to encourage students to get involved, try out new things and improve skills. The Office for Students has provided further examples for those wishing to establish their own centralised support interventions.

Gemma Standen is the widening participation officer for mature and commuting students at the University of East Anglia.

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