Academic competence – the role of institutional support and student diversity (StuFHe)
The StuFHe research project examines the Quality Pact for Teaching that currently provides funding for German higher education institutions to support first-year students’ transition into higher education and address student diversity. StuFHe seeks to gain insights into the interplay of individual and institutional factors that influence student learning and study success. The study focuses on the nexus of students’ academic competence, institutional support programmes and student diversity.
Profiles and development of academic competence
Based on a comprehensive conceptual framework, academic competence is defined as students’ ability to meet the institutional requirements and accomplish individual study goals (Bosse, Schultes, Trautwein, 2016). StuFHe therefore explores how students perceive and cope with formal and informal study requirements. Furthermore, it examines students’ different backgrounds, skills and study goals in order to identify the profiles and development of academic competence.
Effects of support programmes
StuFHe analyses the institutional context by investigating the effects of selected first-year interventions designed to support the transition into higher education and to address student diversity.
To examine the role diversity plays in the development of academic competence and the effects of support programmes StuFHe adopts a comprehensive notion of student diversity, including social, individual and organisational factors. For example, the study accounts for students’ educational and socio-economic background, academic skills and motivation as well as the different types of higher education institutions and fields of study.
Following a Mixed-Method-Design, StuFHe integrates a quantitative and a qualitative study by combining a longitudinal student survey, a document analysis and semi-structured interviews.
After piloting an online questionnaire on academic competence, StuFHe initiated a survey among the first-year students at four cooperating higher education institutions, at the end of 2015. The survey will be repeated over the course of the next two years with the same study cohort. The questionnaire includes established instruments to measure students’ cognitive, motivational, volitional, social and organisational competences. Furthermore, it contains newly developed items regarding the perception of first-year challenges and the effects of first-year interventions.
To gain deeper insights into the support programmes offered to first-year students, the qualitative study employs a document analysis based on the information provided by university websites. This is complemented by expert interviews with program coordinators regarding the objectives and design of support programmes. In addition, interviews with the participants of selected support programmes are intended to shed light on the effects of first-year support from the student perspective.
In the course of the study, StuFHe integrates the quantitative and qualitative findings subsequently and reflects on their implications for academic development. The four cooperating higher education institutions participate in the collection of the data. Equally important, they are invited to discuss how empirical evidence can contribute to the design of first-year interventions. Thus, the cooperation includes workshops and visits at the partner institutions in order to contribute a research perspective to the local discourse on academic competence and the development of institutional support.