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Durham University

Colleges & wider student experience

Student news

Innovative module to smooth transition for those returning to study

(27 November 2018)

The Foundation Programme has launched a new three-week Foundation Skills Module designed to build critical skills for mature students re-entering the education system. The module is another important step in a dedicated programme of work which sets out to improve attainment and outcomes for mature students. 

The Foundation Programme has been developed to prepare students who have not followed the traditional route to University – many are returning to education after a break, and are from under-represented groups within Higher Education. A significant number are mature students, often from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Foundation Skills Module has been designed to ease the transition into education, and to better prepare students for the rest of the foundation course, and the degree programme which they are embarking upon. It grapples with complex ideas which run across all areas of academic research.

Steve Leech, Head of the Foundation Programme, commented: “We are continuously looking for ways to best support our students as they embark on a Durham degree. Starting a degree programme is a big commitment for any student, but for those who have had a break from education, or who may have significant personal commitments outside of their study, it can be even more daunting.

“Our role is to equip students with the skills they will need throughout their degree programme. This module plays the dual role of giving students an excellent flavour of what will be in store, and also helping us to assess where students may need additional support throughout their study.”

The Foundation Skills module takes place over the initial three weeks of the academic year. First, students are challenged to establish the uncertainty of knowledge and to question common assumptions of truth. Students then engage in ways of increasing their certainty of knowledge – through the continuous process of scientific exploration. In the final week, students are shown how they can most accurately communicate their findings, with the appropriate academic language, validated by the correct use of referencing.

Tom Blackwell, Foundation Programme student, commented: “It was a big decision to come back to study for a degree, and I was nervous that I might be quite behind. The initial three weeks were an excellent grounding, and made me start to ask questions, firing up my inquisitive mind. It has also made me really excited about my course, and the potential to question, to challenge and to debate.”

Mature students can face a number of unique challenges when returning to study, and historically this has led to a significant gap in their attainment when measured against the rest of the undergraduate population. The attainment gap for mature students, which was over twenty-five per cent in 2012-13, has closed significantly; the proportion of mature students gaining 2:1s or better is now within five per cent of the Durham average. This improvement can largely be accredited to the work of the Foundation Programme, whose sophisticated admissions process, course design and support structures have helped to directly address some of the barriers faced by mature students.

The Foundation Programme is part of the Durham Centre for Academic Development (DCAD) which seeks to inspire life-long learning across the University, providing tailored support to enable both students and staff to reach their full academic potential. DCAD also provides an Academic Skills Programme which supports mature students throughout their degree programmes.


Useful Information

Access and Participation Plan 2019-20

Durham Centre for Academic Development

Foundation Programme

Mature Students at Durham

Study at Durham