Focus: Supporting student success in the first year

“Engagement matters and it matters most during the critical first year of [university]”
(Tinto, 2006-2007, p. 4)

The focus of our students’ First Year Experience (FYE) should be their facilitated engagement with interesting new learning environments and communities. However, as we are only too well aware, many factors, curricular and extra-curricular, impact on commencing students’ abilities and motivations to engage with the processes and content of early tertiary learning in a new discipline. Thus it becomes theresponsibility of all institutional actors – students, managers, professional and academic staff alike – to work intentionally and collaboratively to mediate a first year student experience that is engaging, supportive, relevant and social.

This presentation will explore what institutions and educators can do, both academically and socially, to better frame the ‘educational conditions in which we place students’ (Tinto, 2009, 2) to support early learning engagement. It will suggest that conceptualising the first year curriculum as the academic and social ‘organising device’ and the ‘glue that holds knowledge and the broader student experience together’ (McInnis, 2001, 9, 11) is central to first year engagement, success and retention. A range of practical examples and strategies in this regard will also be discussed.

McInnis, C. (2001). Signs of disengagement? The changing undergraduate experience in Australian universities. Melbourne: Centre for Studies in Higher Education, University of Melbourne. Retrieved March 4, 2009, from

Tinto, V. (2006-2007). Research and practice of student retention: What next? Journal of College Student Retention,8(1), 1-19. Available at

Tinto, V. (2009, February). Taking student retention seriously: Rethinking the first year of university. Keynote address presented at the FYE Curriculum Design Symposium 2009, Brisbane. Retrieved March 4, 2009, from

Sally Kift is a Professor of Law at Queensland University of Technology, where she has served as Law Faculty Assistant Dean, Teaching & Learning (2001-2006) and QUT’s foundational Director, First Year Experience (2006-2007). Sally is a national Teaching Award winner (2003) and national Program Award winner (2007). She was awarded a Senior Fellowship by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) in 2006 to investigate the first year experience (FYE) and is currently an ALTC Discipline Scholar in Law. Sally has published widely on teaching quality and improvement, legal education, student engagement, transition and the FYE and has received numerous national and international invitations to deliver keynote addresses, workshops, and seminars on these and related issues. She has a substantial record of attracting grant and consultancy income and is frequently asked to sit on higher education review and appointment panels, to evaluate teaching excellence, grant outcomes, and curriculum renewal across the disciplines, and to advise on whole-of-institution approaches to the FYE. In May 2012, Sally will take up the role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at James Cook University.