Developing the academic resilience of our students

It can be fascinating to gather and analyse data relating to the retention, progression and completion rates of HE students and then to theorise about what may, or may not, be contributing to the success or failure. Unless such work is then used to inform the experience of students in real classrooms it will have very limited value. This blog deals with proven and successful practical implementations that are taken from our work on the MEng Electrical, Electronic and Energy Engineering programme at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

The recent HEA What works? Student Retention and Success Change Programme gathered data from students studying on a number of degree programmes and HEIs across the UK. Evidence came back from the second phase of the programme showing higher levels of student self-confidence, engagement and belongingness in this MEng at GCU when compared against the sector and other degree programmes within the same institution, see Figure 1


Figure 1




The data shown in Figure 1 is taken from the spring survey results 2014 of the What works? Student Retention and Success Change Programme. This was an initiative funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The Programme was supported and co-ordinated by the Higher Education Academy and Action on Access. All scores were on a 0-5 scale, with 5 being most positive.

Are you intrigued by why this MEng appeared to be scoring so well? Would you be even more curious if we added the details that the students on this programme were transitioning from college to university, known to be a challenging journey (Barron and D’Annunzio-Green 2009; Hall 2004)? They were from a widening access population with significant numbers coming from areas identified as having multiple deprivations. 85% of the cohort were male and therefore of the gender identified by HESA as more likely to drop out. Adding to the odds being stacked against them, these students were studying in a technical subject discipline known over many years to have had poorer retention, progression and completion statistics than many other subject disciplines. Encouragingly, the identified cohort also went on to demonstrate good retention, progression and degree completion rates and this pattern of excellence continued.

So let us try to work out what was happening. One thing that was known was that students like these coming from college into existing degree programmes appeared to lack confidence in their own ability to succeed. It had been observed that there was a lack of academic resilience. When faced with academic setbacks, these students often did not respond in a way that would set them up for recovery and success. This background knowledge was considered at every stage of the original design and development of this MEng programme.

Concentrating on the implementation of how it was done, we can highlight the use of an academically centred paradigm of optimum student retention and success called the ‘Triple C Model’ (Clafferty and Beggs 2014) which has been evolving since 2001. The justification for using this model in the MEng came from internal analysis in previous academic years that had been done to evaluate the impact of applying the model across all undergraduate programmes in one school of GCU, see Figure 2.


The ‘Triple C Model’ is a holistic approach to the design and implementation of the student experience. It merges together the three Cs which represent Care, Control and Consistency. Presenting the model as a bridge encompasses many analogies of the student experience as being like a journey with the student travelling through the bridge as their time in higher education evolves. Details of many contributory aspects of an integrated approach to the student experience can be seen in Figure 3. 


Figure 2


Figure 3

The practical activities implemented under the ‘Triple C Model’ begin with good early communication which is established to build rapport between the students and their Year Tutor. A personal letter was sent to students who had accepted a place on the programme. A second letter followed when the students registered and included an invitation to induction. Workshops and electronic resources were used to strengthen the academic resilience of the students at key points during the academic year, see Figure 4. Examples of resources used during interventions include:

  • ‘prepare for success’ workshop;
  • time management, self-reflection and goal setting;
  • weekly traffic light attendance communications;
  • birthday emails;
  • developing study skills;
  • mathematics underpinning;
  • better academic writing;
  • building academic confidence;
  • ‘your best trimester at uni yet’ workshop;
  • developing self-belief, mindset and academic resilience resources;
  • ‘back on track’ interviews.

Some of the interactive resources used with the students were developed by us as part of the QAA Scotland Student Transitions Enhancement Themes.

Of particular value in identifying and rectifying student disengagement is the traffic light system of absence management weekly emails combined with assertive outreach activity into the student body. This is a fundamentally different approach to the simplistic monitoring of attendance which is used to withdraw students who have stopped coming to class. As has been confirmed in numerous studies there is a relationship between attendance and academic success. Individual interviews take place and recovery plans are negotiated with students as and when necessary.


    Figure 4

    Student success is predicated on a culture of continuous development and a holistic approach using a mixture of experience, intuitive adaptation and an evidence-based methodology. A desire to ensure best practice in the quality of the student experience is a key driver of the model. The Triple C Model can be mapped onto the HEA ‘Framework of access, retention, progression and attainment’. Indeed it is an example of this framework in practice. The practices described in this blog are informed by a significant body of work (Crossling et al 2009; Morgan et al 2001; Thomas 2002; Tinto 1993; Yorke 2004).

    So what is next in our efforts to build the academic resilience of our students? Perhaps some of the materials referred to in this blog could be adapted for your own use as we strive to help our students to build both their ‘status quo resilience’ and their ‘transformational resilience’.



    Barron, P. and D’Annunzio-Green, N. (2009) A smooth transition? Education and social expectations of direct entry students, Active Learning in Higher Education, 10(1) pp 7-25,

    DOI 10.1177/1469787408100190

    Clafferty, E. M. and Beggs, B. J.(2014) The Triple C Model for Student Retention, Progression and Completion Matures, SRHE Conference, Newport, Wales. Full text available at

    Crossling, G., Heagney, M. and Thomas, L. (2009) Improving student retention in higher education, Australian Universities’ Review, (51)2, pp. 9-18.

    Hall, J. (2004) Retention and wastage in FE and HE: A research review Retention and wastage in FE and HE: A research review. Association for University and College Counselling (Winter), p. 22.

    Morgan, M., Flanagan, R. and Kellaghan, T. (2001) A Study of Non-completion in Undergraduate University Courses, Dublin: Higher Education Authority.

    Thomas, E. (2002) Student retention in Higher Education: The role of institutional habitus, Journal of Educational Policy, 17(4), pp. 423-432.

    Tinto, V. (1993) Leaving College, second edition. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

    Yorke, M. (2004) Leaving early: Undergraduate non-completion in higher education. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.