Exploring links between induction, exit and retention

Exploring links between induction, exit and retention (ELIXIR)

Andrew Mearman and Ruth Payne, Languages, Cultures and Societies

Project Overview

This project was motivated by a wish to understand and improve student retention rates across the University, and to complement other initiatives that were focusing on inclusive education and student success.

By taking better account of each student’s context and needs we can support the creation of communities of practice that help students develop academic literacy – such as understanding feedback – and interpret the nuances of retention data. This in turn enables us to recognise and celebrate diversity, rather than perpetuate deficit ideas that focus on what students ‘lack’ when they come to university.

Understanding each student’s individual journey into university and identifying different processes of transition are now recognised as important steps that affect each person’s success during their time at university, however ‘success’ is defined. It is widely recognised that universities need to support students throughout these transitions, and this project sought to contribute to this understanding and to improve both local and institutional induction processes.

A key premise of the exploration of this critical issue is that induction is a process, not an event. It is crucial not to regard the beginning of academic engagement as time-limited, nor to inadvertently create a situation where students are overloaded with new information they are unable to contextualise or process. Students’ learning needs to be set in individualised contexts that support transition, rather than regimented schedules that have to be endured. Induction can be far less effective when the diversity of student needs is not met, or perhaps not even considered. With this in mind, the project aimed to explore which induction practices work and for whom, in what circumstances, and why.

Key findings

  • Induction practices at Leeds vary considerably in terms of goals, content, organisational roles and responsibilities
  • Induction has typically been approached as a short process of information transmission, with only limited consideration of broader psycho-social needs of our students
  • Interviews with students demonstrated that student expectations of university are formed via several channels and they vary enormously; they are often very different from how the institution and its staff perceive them
  • The interviews also showed that students are wrestling with the notion of independence, as individuals and as learners
  • There is no typical student journey, even where students appear to be similar or are members of a distinct cohort


We held two workshops, one in October 2019 with 40 attendees and one in May 2020, with 97 attendees. The workshop in 2020 reflected the shift in the project that resulted from the global pandemic and focused on induction online. We created two blog posts that reflected on these events and on our wider thinking, with the first of these recommending a possible end to freshers’ week, and the second explaining the importance of getting induction right from the start. In other dissemination activities we led a Journal Club session and ran a stand at January’s Student Education Conference, at which we invited colleagues to show us how to build the best induction from a broad range of context-driven viewpoints.

The global pandemic led us to a point where the main outcomes of the project sprang far outside its own boundaries, and we were invited to play a leading role in the creation of the University’s Welcome, Induction and Transition resource (WIT). ELIXIR’s nascent work contributed to the strategic overview of WIT and included the recognition and adoption of several of ELIXIR’s key principles. In particular, we led on the creation of the student journey maps that underpinned the design of the institutional online resource Getting Started at Leeds.

Andrew Mearman is now leading the evaluation of WIT, informing a proposal accepted at the University Taught Student Education Board to run WIT again in 2021, and represents the institutional WIT resource as a key member of the university’s ePortfolio Implementation Group.

Ruth Payne is now Academic Lead for the university’s ePortfolio project, as well as leading on a workstream that is embedding Sense of Belonging at Leeds. Each of these projects feeds directly into induction and student retention.

If you want to find out more details about this fellowship or what the next steps were upon completion please read the full snapshot (PDF) or contact Andrew (A.J.Mearman@leeds.ac.uk) or Ruth (R.Payne@leeds.ac.uk)