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Published Date

11th April 2017

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A recent reduction in space meant we no longer had a dedicated studio for first years and we were concerned about the impact of this on their sense of belonging and confidence. Being part of the SR&S project gave us an opportunity to develop co-curricular activities aimed at building relationships between students across the course, with the artists in residence and with technical and academic staff, which might not happen so readily in the curriculum.



Alison Gault

Hazel Bruce

Project Description

This case study will illustrate the development of a co-curricular approach to learning and teaching. Three years ago, we began to work with the student cohort, our graduate artists and designers in residence along with technical and academic colleagues to build a community of practice, a greater sense of belonging and personal confidence in both students and staff.

Textile Art Design and Fashion (TADF) is one of the largest programmes in the Faculty of Art, Design and the Built Environment with around 180 students.  When the project began, we were in the first year of a new course, the result of an amalgamation of two separate programmes in Textile Art and Textiles and Fashion Design.

The new course was different in design, ethos and approach to the previous courses and required radical change. The team decided to transfer all students on previous programmes over to the new course (with the students’ permission) rather than introduce one programme and run the other out. To add to this challenge, our studios, workshops and offices were located in a number of temporary spaces, spread across three floors of two separately linked buildings.

Consequently there was significant upheaval and uncertainty for students and academic and technical staff as we began something very new in very challenging circumstances.

When we were asked to join the Student Retention and Success (SR&S) programme, the team wanted to focus on improving identity and belonging in large cohorts, with an emphasis on the effective use of space and place. Retention was not a cause for concern, but student confidence and belonging did require attention, which was partly historical and partly because of the recent significant change in approach.


This project began at a period of significant change for TADF.

There were so many variables: changes to our environment, course content, ethos and organisation that we felt it was difficult to attribute any change in attitude or improvement in statistics to any specific intervention because the new course had so many different elements.

Much of the data used to bring us onto the programme was not relevant as it related to the old course, which was closed and it was therefore difficult to point to tangible results or firm conclusions on improvements.

Evaluation Approach

Retention and Attrition and student feedback

Evidence of Impact

Retention and Attrition while under 5% in 2013, has improved with no student withdrawals in first year.

We have had no fails in the first semester Studio Practice module, a fantastic outcome and a reduction in attrition to 3.5%.

The students have a base room and this has been used as a social space, attendance overall has improved and those who have had attendance problems have received support, studies advice and practical support from the staff, artists in residence, and 2nd year partners.

Feedback is very positive

Reflective Commentary

The second group of student partners were distinctly different to the initial group.

Students didn’t volunteer in the same numbers and their personalities were different, they appeared to be less social and more introspective.

There was less enthusiasm and engagement in the project even though they had benefitted from the original group of student partners.

The differing identities changed the working relationship staff had with the first and second group of partners, although the changing nature of the student partners did not impede the continued collaborations and roles actively as they saw this as being part of the community.

As a result more time would be allocated to describing the project and encouraging participation from a group of partners with different personalities and attributes. We need to think about addressing certain approaches more efficiently through ‘catch-up’ sessions and not only map the progress of the first year group but also the student partners.


There has been a nurturing of the Textile Art, Design and Fashion community and certain activities have developed as a result, more student trips, more competitions and attendance at national and international events for both staff and students an increase in self-confidence in the activities and approaches of TADF.

The programme moved into new space in 2015 with four of the five workshops and large studio area co-located with another workshop nearby. This open shared space makes it very easy to integrate SR&S approaches into the curriculum and the course is now visibly coherent and possesses all of the visual characteristics of a community of practice.

TADF is centrally located within the Belfast campus building and in a high value and visible location – commensurate with the importance of the longstanding history of Belfast as a world centre of textiles production. There is now a visible confidence about what we do and how we do it – and a greater interest from the wider university community.


This case study was part of a three-year What Works? Student Retention & Success Change Programme funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, co-ordinated by the Higher Education Academy (now, Advance HE), and Action on Access.

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