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Sense of belonging

At the heart of successful retention and success is a strong sense of belonging in HE for all students (Thomas, L. 2012).

This was the key finding from a major UK research project, 'What Works? Student Retention & Success'.

There are many opportunities to foster a sense of belonging in the academic sphere, particularly in the all-important early weeks of the year. This could be through: what you choose to teach, how you teach and facilitate learning, how you support students, or how you interact on a person-to-person basis. Opportunities exist across the whole year, formal and informal, inside the classroom and out.

The following areas have been identified as important ones where academic staff can facilitate a sense of belonging (Thomas, L. 2012) :

  1. staff/student relationships: knowing staff and being able to ask for help
  2. curricular contents and related opportunities: providing real-world learning opportunities that are interesting and relevant [to the full range of] future aspirations
  3. learning and teaching: group-based learning and teaching that allows students to interact with each other, share their own experiences and learn by doing
  4. assessment and feedback: clear guidelines about assessment processes and transparency about criteria and feedback to assist students to perform better in the future
  5. personal tutoring: as a means of developing a close relationship with a member of staff who oversees individual progress and takes action if necessary, including [pro-actively] directing students to appropriate academic development and pastoral support services
  6. peer relations and cohort identity: having friends to discuss academic and non-academic issues with, both during teaching time and outside of it, and a strong sense of cohort identity
  7. a sense of belonging to a particular place within the university, most usually a departmental [location or] building

The final 'What Works? Student Retention & Success' report provided further discussion of nurturing a culture of belonging. It also includes a wide range of case studies on how this can be achieved.


Thomas, L. (2012). What Works? Student Retention & Success. London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation, p. 6.

Useful resources

 'What Works? Student Retention & Success'  Thomas, L. (2012).


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