6. An update on the research progress so far…

Engaging students could come down to how much they believe in themselves

The concept of self-efficacy, or how much you genuinely believe in your own abilities to succeed, could be the making or breaking of you when embarking on any kind of endeavour.

Scientists have long studied the idea that any accomplishment is driven by your self-belief. This includes how well you respond to challenges and obstacles, and the choices you make along the way. 

So how does self-efficacy impact on undergraduate students? Completing a degree is no mean feat, often full of hindrances, setbacks, trials and tribulations. Its these challenges that contribute to making it a degree, and upon graduation sets you apart from those that haven’t been on this turbulent journey.

Exciting new research at the University of Northampton, led by The Foundation Study Framework (FSF) team is looking to understand how we can better engage students who are enrolled on a four-year FSF programme.

The FSF is an exciting novel route into degree-level study that aims to engage students without standard entry qualifications. The first year of their chosen degree is studied over two years, incorporating both discipline-related modules and foundation framework modules, with an aim to support students in developing higher level academic and transferable skills that will ensure they succeed into their chosen subject area (https://www.northampton.ac.uk/study/foundation-framework/). This contributes to the government’s  agenda to double the numbers of young people going to university by 2020.

Starting a degree course from a non-traditional background presents new challenges for staff and students alike. Skills that would usually be gained during A-level study ready for Uni may not have been developed in students undertaking the FSF, and this could be where self-efficacy, determination and ‘grit’ play an even bigger role in student success. This gives us a fantastic opportunity to carry out research into how important self-efficacy is for students on the FSF!

The Research Project

Over 250 students enrolled on 20 different degree courses as part of the FSF in the academic year 2017-18. To measure and monitor self-efficacy over the academic year, students will take part in The GRIT Breakthrough Programme and complete two self-efficacy scale surveys, one produced by GRIT, and one produced by the University of Northampton’s Changemaker Employability Self-assessment tool, which combines questions from the General Self-Efficacy Scale (Schwarzer, 1995) with the University of Northampton’s Changemaker Outcomes for Graduate Success (COGS). 

 In November 2017 students took part in The GRIT Breakthrough Programme–  a three-day  course led by the GRIT organisation (www.grit.org.uk) that believes that ‘when you change your thinking, you can change the world‘.  GRIT aims to reach young people through transformational training, leading the idea that changing the way they think can radically alter their outcomes in life. Much of this training inspires students to believe in themselves and that they are capable of success.

Attending a three-day GRIT programme  is no easy task though! Participants are challenged to look at the reasons why they might have low levels of self-belief. Workshops are geared towards participants facing some uncomfortable thoughts and feelings in order to get to the root cause.

In January 2018 a small focus group was held with students to reflect on The GRIT Breakthrough programme, and how it had affected them. Students emphasised how on the first day, they had no clue as to what was going on, and that many of the activities didn’t make sense! However they stuck with it, and after attending the second and third day, things started to make sense and students experienced almost epiphany-type states in relation to their self-belief.

“…when I came back after the 2nd or 3rd day I was like… you know the feeling you get after you have meditated? I felt very…like I know myself a bit more.”

“There was a lot to it, some of it did not make any sense at all to begin with, and then it became logical after day 3. I enjoyed it tremendously!”

Older members of the student group did however say that whilst it was good, they perhaps had less to gain from it. Age could well be a contributing factor to levels of self-efficacy, in that the older you are, the more you have confidence in your abilities, as life experience has taught you so.

“…there wasn’t a huge gap that they fulfilled, some small part maybe… I found it was thrilling all in all but I wouldn’t say I found anything new. I’m 52 years old…”

Data from this focus group will soon undergo thematic analysis- results from this to be published soon, and a follow up GRIT day is scheduled for February 2018 to further inform this research project.