Creating impactful student support networks at Wrexham Glyndwr University

In the post-Covid world, especially after long periods of isolation in education and at home, ensuring students feel they are supported and heard by their university is more important than ever. 

Tribal i-graduate spoke with Sally Lambah (Student Advice and Guidance Manager) and Zack Vaughan-Allen (Engagement and Support Officer) from Wrexham Glyndwr University, one of the UK’s best performers in the International Student Barometer (ISB) for student support. They outperformed the UK benchmark in all support categories with a score of 96% overall against the UK benchmark of 90%. We wanted to find out just what makes Wrexham Glyndwr’s support network so highly regarded by its students, and the ways in which utilising data from the ISB year-on-year has helped develop such excellent support provision.


Using ISB data to create plans for the future

When asked why they took part in the ISB once again, Sally and Zack were keen to emphasise that their inclusion was an integral part of their development planning. By using the ISB to show the university’s performance in comparison to other universities, and to identify improvements that may be required where they were falling behind against benchmark scores, the university is able to inform budget decisions and allocate investment where it is most necessary.

“We wanted to draw that line in the sand to show where we're currently working from, and to give indications as to how we can improve over the next couple of years.”
The impact of Wrexham Glyndwr’s actioning of students’ feedback since their inclusion in the ISB is shown in their year-on-year performance. They boast an impressive response from their international students when it comes to mental health support, wellbeing, as well as the arrivals process, to name just a few of their strongest areas. 
Capturing the student voice is clearly important to the university, as is ensuring students are aware of, and able to access, student support, as Sally explains, 
“Working in our Student Campus Life department, I’m responsible for a wide range of areas relating to the student experience, including our Student Support Navigators – these are really hybrid roles between academics and support services - and our Advice and Guidance team, who operate Ask, our digital and face-to-face gateway into our services, including careers. So, we create lots of opportunities for anecdotal feedback, as well as service-specific feedback that we use to analyse and review what we’re offering, and how we’re offering it.”

Accessible student mental health services make a difference

One of Wrexham Glyndwr’s stand-out achievements in their latest ISB results has been the positive feedback about their mental health support. With students globally suffering from a mental health crisis amid a changing climate surrounding safety, post-Covid living and the economy, institutions need to have a proven support network in place that ensures students are able to thrive. 95% of students reported being happy with the mental health services offered at Wrexham Glyndwr, in comparison to 91% in the UK benchmark, while 80% of students also reported never or only occasionally feeling stressed, significantly better than the UK benchmark of 73%. 
Sally and Zack noted that in order to meet the demands of students and achieve these results, the university analysed students’ feedback and recognised a need for more holistic support. In response, they created new staff roles designed to form a bridge between academics and support services, alongside an improved digital service including specially-made apps offering additional levels of student support in everyday living, mental health, and career support. Students’ feedback may not always be positive, but it is from the negatives that the institution has been able to push for budget allocation where it is needed most:
“The fact is that there are common negative points that you see in the survey responses. You get the positives: if people get to see the services like counselling, they're generally very happy with them. It's actually about accessing services at the right times where some may struggle. By highlighting that feedback and data, it informs budget decisions around the international student experience.” 
International student inductions were also adjusted, spending more time with incoming students on emphasising the types of support available to them and crucially, how they are able to access services, as Zack explains:
“What we've noticed with international students especially, is they really do respond well during induction to being told it's OK to use the support services. I think culturally it can be seen in some countries as either a backward step, or a difficult first step to take - essentially asking for help in any sort of way, whether that's mental health funding, careers, accommodation. So, in response, the teams have made support services very accessible to international students, both from a digital and face-to-face point of view.”

Supporting students from application to arrival

It comes as no surprise from Wrexham Glyndwr’s ISB data that international students are finding themselves arriving to a fantastic welcome. Improvements have been seen year-on-year in the university’s ISB scores, with 11 out of 13 measures having an improved satisfaction score. Significantly, an impressive 37% of students were ‘Very Satisfied’ for overall arrival, against 30% in the UK overall. Students have also given a 97% positive feedback score versus a UK benchmark of 84% for being academically prepared on arrival. It’s certainly an area where UK universities generally do have the room and ability to improve, in order to raise the benchmark towards Wrexham Glyndwr’s example. 
The measures put in place at the university following their last ISB results are clearly having a positive impact on the international student body. What goes into making their experience different and significant enough that their students want to give such positive feedback? Zack observed that as well as ensuring precise and concise communications with their agents, adjustments to their pre-arrival process have been key to improving students’ arrival experience, with digital support and conversation being a primary focus:
“Digital pre-arrival induction is something that we've started doing. We'll hold sessions with them to essentially do a mini-induction where we say ‘these are the things that you need to have already done at this point. These are the things that you need to have done two weeks or four weeks before you fly, and then this is a general idea of what to expect in your first couple of weeks.“
Fostering engagement between students, too, can help to make the arrival experience a far less daunting prospect. Introducing digital chatrooms, such as a WhatsApp group, for incoming international students, has been one of the best ways to allow students to ask questions and bond prior to arriving. Zack noted that its importance was seen in both building a sense of belonging in the student community, and in helping to quell their initial nerves on attending the university:
"It just makes things a little bit easier straight away and it leads to better engagement and happier students. A number of students were all saying about how hugely important that is, having that constant set of communication from the moment you got their offer, so that they’re not coming in cold, and they know this is how things work at Wrexham Glyndwr.”
New call-to-action

Developing Careers Support for international students’ futures

For international students, the impact on their future career is the number one priority – it is the most important factor in choosing where to study. As such, it is invaluable for Higher Education institutions to provide the careers support that students require in order to get the best start on their search for a job.
At Wrexham Glyndwr, the ISB data showed that satisfaction with all 9 aspects of their careers support services exceeded the UK benchmark, with 88% of students reporting feeling prepared for their future careers – significantly higher than the UK 79% benchmark. These impressive results have, in part, been a result of Wrexham Glyndwr’s dedication to improving their careers service locally, offering more work opportunities within the university town:
“Having our work placement instructors in the university means we have our own connections to local employers, and if we can make work opportunities more available in our own city then there's less reason for students to move further away to find that work.”

Creating the conditions for success

Wrexham Glyndwr have clearly made conscious, evidence-based efforts in the development of their student support provision, as borne out in their ISB results. In doing so, the university is creating the conditions for success where all students can thrive no matter what issues they may face. 
“We were very happy with all the results when they came back. We feel that we're doing very well but to have that ratified in the form of the ISB data is fantastic. It's a massive testament to the team. If any of our students have a particular wobble, we don't want to feel like they are a million miles away from their comfort zone of a home. Quite often the fact that the team is there is enough for them to say, “Actually, this is something that's manageable; something that I can get through”, and they go on to have very successful times with us here.
“As our diversity of countries changes, we'll be looking to work on that sense of community. We don't just want students turning up for their day of lectures and then going home straight away, feeling like they're ‘rinsing and repeating’ just to try to get that education. We want them to create some of their life memories here and make some of their lifelong friends. We want that to be an option alongside their careers.”
Encouraging broadened access to the various student services for international students has been a boon for Wrexham Glyndwr, cementing the institution’s place in both the International Student Barometer results and in the minds of its students as a university that supports them throughout their time at the university, and prepares them well for their future careers.

The ISB helps institutions make informed decisions to enhance the international student experience and drive successful recruitment and marketing strategies.

More Resources