There’s been a lot published about this year’s school leaver cohort, their expectations of university, and the challenges we face as educators to support transition into university for those students after two years of disrupted schooling. But what about those students who are heading back to (probably) (relatively) traditional on-campus learning after all the interruptions and challenges of online learning during the pandemic? Some undergrads may be heading into the final year of their degree without a single prior semester of “traditional” university. Is it fair or safe to assume they’ll fit back in with a sigh of relief and go on as normal?

Transition pedagogy has come a long way in Australian higher education over the last 15 years or so, both as a practice and a field of research, but it is still, in many cases, front-loaded into the first years of degrees. Some universities have given thought to “transition through” and “transition out”, but what do we do to support students who are “transitioning back”?

My recently published research shows that students who have taken a leave of absence from studying benefit from proactive outreach on their return to ensure they are set up to succeed. In fact, the attrition rate for these students decreased by 8-9 per cent through such transition support—and this improvement held true regardless of background factors or equity group membership.

Clearly, the second- and third-year students returning to university study this year are not identical with students who take a leave of absence, but there are parallels between the two in the educational disruption they’ve faced, and continue to face. And academics are themselves exhausted by and from responding to the pandemic, of course. This is something further for us to consider (and something that those who don’t habitually teach incoming students may not have had to consider before). But we must be proactive in supporting transition back to university, not just falling into our traditional, comfortable ways of doing things and assuming all will be well.

Associate Professor Ryan Naylor, Sydney School of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney [email protected] @ryannaylor_aus


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