The REACT Project
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About The REACT Project

The REACT programme was designed to make a significant impact on student engagement and the student experience in the Higher Education (HE) sector in England and Wales over two years, from July 2015 to July 2017. The focus demographic of student engagement was on 'hard to reach' individuals, the REACT project investigated links between student engagement, retention and attainment across fifteen UK universities.

Student engagement is perceived as a key driver for many aspects of a student's university experience and has been linked to student achievement, persistence and satisfaction. The REACT programme has begun to allow the sector to enter discussion better prepared and better informed, with qualitative and quantitative evidence as backing, and enabling movement towards a critical mass of practitioners and universities engaging with this field.

This website represents the culmination of the REACT initiative. It offers case studies, tools and stories associated with the REACT programme, along with individual pages for each of the Universities involved. In conjunction with other networks, the resources have the potential to both consolidate and focus student engagement activity nationally, always to specifically improve the student learning experience for so-called 'hard to reach' students across the sector.

  • The REACT Team
  • The REACT Team members have extensive experience in Student Engagement activities across the Higher Education sector. The following members listed below make up the core team at REACT.
  • Elizabeth Dunne: ‘Director of the REACT project at the University of Winchester’
  • Tom Lowe: ‘REACT Project Manager’
  • Dr Stuart Sims: ‘Lead Researcher on the REACT project’
  • Chris Guggiari- Peal: ‘REACT Research (UoE)’
  • Wilko Luebsen: ‘REACT Research (LMU)’
  • Jack Hancock: ‘Graduate Intern’
  • Callum Murphy: ‘Oversees all promotional material and content updates for the REACT website’
  • Rebekha Street: ‘Student Ambassador, Chaplaincy Assistant and Student Fellow’
  • Cassie Shaw: ‘Research Officer’
  • Rebecca Manley: ‘React Team member’
  • The Steering Group
  • The Steering Group have extensive experience in Student Engagement activities across the Higher Education sector. The purpose of this group is to help shape the practicalities of the project.
  • Elizabeth Dunne: ‘Director of the REACT project at the University of Winchester’
  • Tom Lowe: ‘REACT Project Manager’
  • Dr Stuart Sims: ‘Lead Researcher on the REACT project’
  • Chris Guggiari- Peal: ‘REACT Research (UoE)’
  • Wilko Luebsen<: ‘REACT Research (LMU)’
  • Jack Hancock: ‘Graduate Intern’
  • Cassie Shaw: ‘Research Officer’
  • Yaz EI Hakim: ‘SEDA Co-Chair (External)’
  • Dr Cathy Bovill: ‘Senior lecturer – UoG (External)’
  • Sam Chivers: ‘Vice President, Education (WSU)’
  • Digby Warren: ‘Associate Professor & Head of CELT, London Metropolitan University’
  • Adam Smith: ‘UG Modern Liberal Arts student’
  • Julie Wintrup: ‘Principal Teaching Fellow in Health Sciences’
  • Simon Walker: ‘Head of Educational Development, University of Greenwich’
  • Claire Alison: ‘Head of Educational Development, University of Greenwich’

The REACT Conference

Our first-ever conference was held at the University of Winchester in 2017, where delegates learnt about our 16 partner institutions from our Collaborative Development Programme.

Each institution that was invited presented their research to other partners from the Higher Education sector. Staff members and students were invited to come along and learn about Student Engagement initiatives, how to engage with 'hard to reach' students.

Download conference slides for each partner institution

The links below provide a direct download for the conference slides from each partner institution.

University of Bristol

PowerPoint Presentation Slides


University of Newcastle

PowerPoint Presentation Slides


University of Southampton

PowerPoint Presentation Slides


University of Winchester

PowerPoint Presentation Slides


London Met University

PowerPoint Presentation Slides


Newman University

PowerPoint Presentation Slides


 </br>Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change

Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change

Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change is practice-led with deep roots in developing staff-student educational partnerships. It supports the dissemination of innovative practice to promote local- and larger-scale change and impact on institutional narratives for change. The topics in the journal focus on innovating the student experience within the context of the digital era, ranging from teaching and learning, inclusivity and access, assessment and feedback, and sustainability. This open-access, peer-reviewed journal publishes articles, case studies, opinion pieces and reviews, often, but not exclusively co-authored between staff and students within the context of students and staff as change agents. It aims to: · Support student transition into change agents · Promote staff-student partnership projects · Share experiences of innovative and effective teaching or student experience · Support, disseminate related knowledge and good practice, · Raise awareness of a particular methodology Read more: The Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change (
<br>Hard to Reach Literature Review

Hard to Reach Literature Review


This systematic literature review of ‘hard to reach’ students was conducted as part of the REACT project (Realising Engagement through Active Culture Transformation). The review was undertaken to provide a more rigorous understanding of the key issues and challenges to defining who ‘hard to reach’ students are and draw out empirically proven good practice in methods to engage these students. It was funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) as part of the REACT Project to support the work of student engagement practitioners and the Higher Education sector in developing inclusive practice. As developing good practice to engage ‘hard to reach’ students is a key focus of REACT, it was felt that greater clarity in how this term is being used within the literature, and how such students can be identified, was necessary for developing any such interventions.

Authors: Cassie Shaw, Owen Humphrey, Tali Atvars & Stuart Sims

Case Studies of Practice

The University of Winchester

To enhance student engagement at the University of Winchester and Winchester Student Union, the two institutions have worked in partnership to create new student participations, staff appointments and opportunities to facilitate student engagement in the ‘gaps’ of participation at Winchester.

Winchester uses partnership to design and initiate change, tackle the barriers to higher education, and through their enthusiasm for SE, now run the nationwide student engagement research project - REACT. Winchester has excelled quickly since c.2012 to champion student involvement at new levels of the University of Winchester, with Student Engagement a priority in the institutional strategy to ensure innovation in the educational experience.

Peer Assisted Learning (PAL)

Student leaders are chosen through a selection process carried out by the scheme co-ordinators in liaison with programme staff. All successful PAL leaders are then expected to attend training sessions, and regular debrief meetings which explore facilitation techniques, agenda-setting and challenging areas of the curriculum. In the academic year, 2017/18 the University of Winchester ran PAL schemes on seven programmes, with 25 second and third-year students leading weekly PAL sessions for their first-year peers.

For more information, contact Paula Green – PAL Lead

Student Fellows Scheme

The purpose of the Student Fellows Scheme (SFS) is to recruit, train and develop students, who work in partnership with academics and professional staff, on targeted educational development projects. These projects can include conducting evaluations, research or developing new initiatives that address a range of broad topics. The primary purpose is to make a change to some aspect of the University that improves the experience for students. This could be on a specific module or across the whole institution. Students receive a bursary of £600, given in four instalments across the academic year, subject to the completion of progress review stages

Winchester Research Apprenticeship Programme

Winchester Research Apprenticeship Programme (WRAP) offers the opportunity for students to gain work experience in research by working alongside an academic member of staff at the University on a real-life research project. This enables them to develop transferable skills and encourages them to continue to postgraduate education at the University. WRAP also aims to increase staff engagement in research-led learning and teaching and strengthens the research culture within their faculty. Student participants receive a scholarship payment of £220 per week, and projects vary in length from one to four weeks.

The Centre for Student Engagement

The Centre for Student Engagement aims to develop the University of Winchester's priority to be sector leading in Student Engagement through internationally recognised activities. The Centre provides services to, and research into, Student Engagement, exploring the ever-growing discourse of students' experiences in contemporary Higher Education.

The University of Brighton

The University of Brighton is a thriving, multi-campus university on the south coast of England. We have more than 21,000 students and 2,800 staff studying and working at our five campuses in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings.

Interdepartmental Partnership

Working with the national REACT project, the University of Brighton has established a Student Engagement operational group to work towards embedding student engagement at the University. We are a team comprising members from Engagement and Information (Quality), the Centre for Learning and Teaching, and the Students’ Union.

Peer Assisted Study Scheme (PASS)

PASS started at the University of Brighton in 2009 and we currently train approximately 130 students annually in peer leadership, providing support to around 1,400 first years across 48 modules.

Student Led Projects Through Work Placements

The University offers many internal student placements, both in schools and professional services including departments such as student services, widening participation, and the Centre for Learning and Teaching, and health and safety.

For more information, contact Samantha Welsh - Quality and Standards Officer (Engagement and Information)

Bucks New University

Buckinghamshire New University is a modern campus, which was awarded full university status in 2007. Focused on creative and professional education and with strong links with industry and local enterprise, we operate across four physical sites: High Wycombe (our main campus), Uxbridge, Aylesbury and Great Missenden.

PREP scheme

Bucks New University is developing a number of higher and degree apprenticeship programmes designed to appeal to a wider range of potential students. We understand the challenges faced by apprentices on similar programmes but these will be significantly different to full time undergraduate courses. Universities will have a key role in supporting these new students and working with them to develop the skills they require to engage fully with their apprenticeships and in the workplace.

Developing an understanding of why students do not engage Bucks New University has worked alongside the REACT project to address the historical precedent of apparent student disengagement, attendance and attrition. Our view was that our "hard to reach" students were, by definition, the ones more likely not to engage and withdraw from their course.

Project RightFit: Encouraging pre-enrolment engagement

Whilst many students may find the prospect of going to University a challenge, for some, it is a leap into the unknown that can be intimidating and stressful. An increasingly diverse student body means students come into higher education with a range of expectations and assumptions about what it might involve and what will be expected of them as students. Supporting students in their transition into higher education is, therefore, a complex and multi-dimensional process, that requires an equally multi-dimensional approach.

For more information, contact Julie Irwin - Assistant Director– Learning & Teaching

The University of Exeter

The University of Exeter, spread across three campuses, is a leading institution in terms of Student Engagement and consistently in the top 10 in the UK for student satisfaction. The University runs some ambitious initiatives such Students as Change Agents, Grand Challenges and a Peer Support scheme. Also, Exeter’s Student's Guild is home to Student Ideas, a hub where students can put forward and discuss ideas for change, the Student Led Teaching Awards, and the Students' Green Unit, and much more. An education at Exeter is underpinned by the Student Attributes.

London Metropolitan University

London Metropolitan University is a large post-92 university with a diverse intake of students and a wide range of courses, with a long history of enabling access to HE and a strong focus on teaching. Student engagement and participation is high on the agenda for the University and is strongly reinforced within LMU’s Strategic Plan.

PASS Scheme

The PASS Scheme at London Metropolitan was established during 2014/15 via a pilot initiative has become an integral part of the University's Strategic Plan as a mechanism to support students' transition at entry-level, enhance their learning achievement and reduce attainment gaps.

For more information, contact Wilko Luebsen – PASS Scheme Administrator

Newman University

Newman University is a Catholic University located within a suburb of Birmingham. Currently there are 2500 students with 75% attending on a full -time basis, and 25% on a part time basis. 75% of students are female, and 25% are male.

Engaging Students with the Local Community: Children’s University at Newman University

Children’s University is an international, critically acclaimed, extra-curricular programme which aims to promote social mobility by taking learning outside the classroom. It provides 7-14 year olds with access to exciting and innovative learning activities and experiences outside the normal school day. Achievement is celebrated and rewarded through the award of National Certificates.

For more information, contact Jane Beniston - Early Years Initial Teacher Training (EYITT) Course Coordinator

University College London

UCL aims to create cultures of student engagement and leadership by building on the student academic representative system and the UCL ChangeMakers programme so that students are involved in all aspects of quality assurance and enhancement work at the university, work as consultants on curriculum development projects and have the opportunity to imagine, articulate and initiate improvements to education. The UCL project is designed to establish ‘hard to reach’ students as an important discussion point within UCL, and to better locate such students (whether undergraduate, postgraduate taught or postgraduate research students) by collecting together and using data more effectively than has been achieved until now. This includes using a variety of institutional data and interviews to identify non-participants.

Playful methods of gathering data on ‘hard to reach’ students

ChangeMakers Partnership Projects

UCL ChangeMakers supports staff and students to work in partnership to enhance education at UCL. Enhancement projects can be put forward by either students or staff but we encourage them to be developed in partnership where possible. Funding of up to £1000 is available for project costs, plus we give participating students stipends, as a small thank you. The projects should all take forward UCL’s Education strategy, in particular the Connected Curriculum initiative. We select projects based on the breadth of impact they will have, their feasibility, potential to create sustained change and to be disseminated widely.

UCL ChangeMakers supporting departments

UCL ChangeMakers provides support to departments with low student satisfaction rates, through offering them the opportunity to work with an ASER facilitator and to run a UCL ChangeMakers project on assessment and feedback.

For more information, contact Dr Jenny Marie - Principle Teaching Fellow – Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching

The University of Bristol

Bristol Students’ Union is the collective voice of University of Bristol students. We support activities so students can try new things and develop skills. We also advise, support and empower students to make change in their lives and the wider University community. Bristol SU and the University of Bristol have a shared vision for partnership. We have a joint ambition to develop opportunities for students to engage with all aspects of their University experience.

For more information, contact Robiu Salisu

Bristol SU Networks

Networks are a new democratic model launched at Bristol SU in 2016, which provide a variety of ways for students to engage with their Student Union. Recognising that not every student will want to stand in an election, student networks are spaces that bring together representatives, club and society members and interested students to work on issues which matter to them. To do this, networks incorporate elements of club and society activities with community organising techniques.

For more information on SU Networks, contact Helen Hoogewerf-mccomb

Education for Sustainable Development

Bristol SU and the University of Bristol Students are working in partnership to embed Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in the university experience. The University has based its understanding on the UNESCO definition which covers four main areas: social and economic justice; cultural diversity; human rights of future generations; and the protection and restoration of the Earth’s ecosystems.

University of Greenwich

The University of Greenwich is a British, United Kingdom-based university. It has three campuses in London and Kent, England.

Improving assessment design for all using TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment)

Engaging with so-called ‘hard to reach’ students remains a core mission of the UK Higher Education sector agenda, and was the key focus of our engagement with REACT. The issues of retaining students and improving attainment are complex, and there is no 'one size fits all approach' for success. Our project examined 28,824 student records to identify those retention variables that are significant. The data gained from the study was used to frame ways where TESTA could be further developed to improve student retention rates.

For more information, contact Simon Walker – Head of Educational Development

Greenwich Bright

Greenwich Bright is a new centre for enterprise and innovation within the Faculty of Architecture, Computing and Humanities, run in collaboration with the University of Greenwich Business School, based at Digital Greenwich. The aim of Greenwich Bright is to help local businesses and community groups to develop their projects and then use students with appropriate skills to deliver the work.

For more information, contact Phil Clipsham – Head of Enterprise

Sheffield Hallam University

Our Directorate supports the overarching drive for a transformative student experience through its use of evidence-based research to identify and develop effective practices. We evaluate the real impact of activities intended to deliver excellence, working across the university community and in the sector, applying new and established research methodologies.

Working Alongside: Collecting Examples of Collaborative Practice

The Student Engagement, Evaluation and Research directorate works alongside students in different ways, employing student researchers and offering them placements. The ‘Working Alongside’ project involved one of our student researchers collecting stories from academic staff in the University who gave accounts of working alongside their students in a range of contexts (representation, interviews, research, away days, and course design). The researcher then collected together the findings as snapshots of good practice and compiled them as an animation to share on Sheffield Hallam’s Teaching Essentials CPD resource. Also, check out the blog on Reflections on being a student researcher within STEER here

For more information, contact STEER Team

Creation and Confidence: BME students as academic partners

This case study documents the 'Creation and confidence' initiative at Sheffield Hallam University which has a large BME attainment gap; this student group has been constructed as 'hard to reach'. The project team consisted of a range of academic and professional services staff alongside three student researchers. The project set out to achieve gaining evidence-based insights into the use of co-design and peer-learning as conduits of confidence-building and belonging of BME students; developing a scalable approach to building confidence and fostering belonging of all students; raising awareness of the need to think differently about explanations of BME underachievement. Our blog about the project and the emergent learning can be found at:

Digital Storytelling for 'hard to reach' students

Digital storytelling can be a powerful tool for capturing student voices, especially those which seek to challenge a norm or prevailing culture. They can raise awareness of the differences experienced by students pre-HE, through transition and induction, on feelings of confidence, and of the challenges faced in retention and progression. Digital storytelling takes many forms including blogging, curating, and videoing. The form utilised in this project is the collection of digital images coupled with audio narration, using Adobe Spark software. STEER has worked with students from SHU to develop their digital stories as part of a project with the Yorkshire Universities 'hard to reach' group. These stories are used as examples of how the tool can be used, and to encourage other institutions to explore this method for capturing the student experience. The stories and a Toolkit are hosted online at:

Download REACT Case Studies

The links below provide a direct download for the case studies from each partner institution.

University of Exeter

Case Study


University of Lincoln

Case Study


London Met University

Case Study


University of Winchester

Case Study


Download Resources

View and download a range of REACT and student engagement resources.

REACT Resources & Toolkit