Supporting teachers
who support student transition

The START project focuses on promoting inclusive excellence in higher education teaching. More specifically, START seeks to equip academics who work with first-year students with competences required to set all students up for success.

Those who teach first-year students have a special role to play in making higher education inclusive. Simply granting access to diverse students, and then leaving them to own resources is not enough. Students need to be supported in this transition, so that every student can thrive and succeed. This is especially true for first-generation, international and older students, as well as for all students coming from less represented socio-economic backgrounds.

Academics, in turn, need support of faculty developers and institutional authorities in order to develop awareness, skills and competences required to support diverse students in their transition to higher education.

START works to put together professional development resources that can support academics in their efforts to support student transition to higher education.

START will produce four outputs / results:

An Awareness Raising Toolkit to help academics understand why students find transition to higher education challenging and why those teaching first-year students have a special role to play

A Handbook with ideas and concrete activities for academics to see how they can help first-year students engage, persist and succeed in higher education

A Self-Assessment Tool for those teaching first-year students to find out how good they are at supporting student transition

A collection of good practices for bridging the communication gap between higher education and pre-university education sectors

Project background

Student dropout and lack of timely completion caused by difficulties experienced in their transition to higher education is an old problem. However, recently, OECD Education at a glance country notes and national-level surveys highlighted how serious this issue is:


  • in the Netherlands, 12% of students dropout within their first-year of studies and only 28% complete first-cycle higher education degrees on time;
  • in Spain, approximately one out of five students drop out, and ­the cost of first-year drop-outs come to 395 million euros;
  • in Slovenia, 20% of students are not enrolled in tertiary education by the beginning of the year two;
  • in France, 59% fails to complete Bachelors programme, with the highest dropout rates in the first year of studies;
  • in Ireland, 63% complete degrees within their theoretical duration, but in computing and engineering courses dropout is between 60 & 80%.

This has high personal, societal and economic costs; and such situation is in struck contrast with the aim to make higher education more inclusive.

As more students from ‘less traditional’ backgrounds gain access to higher education, there is a stronger need for academics to develop competences required to effectively support student transition. Yet, in many higher education institutions there is a lack of support for academics in this sense. Even in institutions with a well-functioning system of professional development for university teachers, activities to support teachers who must support student transition can be lacking and this ‘lets down’ both academics and students.

START seeks to enhance the transition from pre-university education to higher education. The simple idea behind the project is that we want to support academics and secondary teachers to be more competent and proactive in making the transition to higher education more empowering and inclusive for students.

Project aim

START aims to promote social inclusion by equipping those teaching first-year courses with the competences necessary to better support all students in their transition to higher education, ensuring students learn how to learn in this new environment and are set up for success.

Project objectives

START project aims to achieve four main objectives related to raising awareness of the academics on the challenges that students face when transitioning to higher education, providing academics with tools and methods to improve the experience of their students, and improving the communication between the higher education and pre-higher education sectors.

Objective 1: Make those teaching 1st-year courses aware of the difficulties students face when entering higher education, on the one hand, & of the special role those teaching first-year students have in making higher education inclusive, accessible & engaging, on the other.

Objective 2: Introduce higher education academics to tools & activities they can use in order to set ALL students up for success through helping students learn how to learn in higher education; and revising assessment, learning and teaching activities to help students successfully adapt to learning in this new environment.

Objective 3:  Agree on indicators of excellence and create tools that can guide professional development efforts and recognition for those who teach first-year students and are keen to promote inclusive excellence (student retention & success) through core curriculum activities.

Objective 4: Facilitate dialogue with key actors of the pre-university education sector, so as to increase the number of diverse students who access higher education better prepared to learn and succeed in higher education environment.



“Why do those teaching first-year students have a special role to play?” Awareness Raising toolkit

“How can I help my first-year students engage, persist & succeed?” Handbook

“How good am I at supporting student transition?” Self-assessment tool

“Bridging the inter-sectoral communication gap”


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