This guest blog was kindly provided by Dr Emily McIntosh, Director of Student Life, University of Bolton.

‘Resilience’ has stealthily crept into higher education consciousness to become the latest buzzword.  The Teaching Excellence Framework, student mental health and wellbeing, retention, achievement, student engagement, learning analytics and employability have preoccupied us for some time. This year, they are the dominant themes of the higher education conference circuit. Resilience is slowly joining the list and conversation about it has focussed on students’ mental health, retention and academic achievement.

At the same time, the rhetoric about the ‘snowflake generation’ has been used to denigrate young people for taking offence easily. Their supposed lack of tolerance has become synonymous with a perceived lack of resilience.

Resilience is sometimes discussed as either something a person either possesses, or does not possess, something that is fixed and individualistic, and something which we in higher education have no influence over. But it is time to stop the clock and reflect. Interpreting resilience in such a fixed way is problematic because it is based on a series of questionable assumptions.

In fact:

  • not all students are young people, living in halls of residence with the ability to immerse themselves in campus culture 24/7;
  • students arrive with a wide range of prior experiences that bear on their higher education – some are positive and some are negative, and they do not disappear the moment somebody enters higher education;
  • some resilient students leave higher education.

We are slowly and usefully building the evidence base, as explained in a new report by Unite Students. There is much evidence of fresh thinking, whereby people look at their systems and processes and evaluate the external factors which play a part in helping students succeed.

For example, AMOSSHE, the Student Services Organisation, and Unite are developing a resilience toolkit for the sector that focuses on environmental factors, such as the importance of student accommodation, belonging and connectedness. UKAT, the UK Advising and Tutoring Organisation, is reviewing personal tutoring models in higher education, developing a research base and looking at resources to help tutors navigate the complexities of modern student life.

A focus on understanding our student profiles, and our environment, will help to make a positive long-term case for resilience.