Benefits of Introducing a Buddy Scheme for First-Year Students

In this blog post, co-written with Magda Chanopoulou (Head of Student Life at Queen Mary University London), we explore the benefits and impact of introducing Vygo as a platform for the  Buddy Scheme (a peer mentoring programme that supports students joining the university). 

The QMUL Buddy Scheme was launched on Vygo to students in September 2023. Since the Buddy Scheme started on Vygo, over a thousand students have joined and exchanged nearly 7000 direct messages. The purpose of the programme is to help first-years transition to QMUL by using second or third-year peer mentors to help support, guide, and signpost them to the relevant services. 

After a recent report into chat themes and trends across the messages exchanged, we’ve highlighted the following as the top 5 advantages of the QMUL Buddy Scheme: 

1. Enhanced Academic Support:

Peer buddies can provide guidance, share study tips, and offer insights into the effective management of their courses.

A recent review with QMUL students on Vygo has shown that mentees often ask about tips and techniques on revising and managing their time with their academic studies. On top of this, QMUL first years were also starting to think about different modules to take in their following years and how this could help with their career goals.

2. Improved Social Interactions:

The peer buddy scheme has helped facilitate social connections, helping new students integrate into the university community. This has been particularly beneficial for international students or those from diverse backgrounds who may feel isolated or face cultural barriers.

When we dived into the common social chat themes, we found that students often asked a range of questions such as information about the local area, travel and different clubs and societies.

Before introducing Vygo, mentors used anything from personal emails to WhatsApp. Magda noted that ‘all universities have had examples of where Whatsapp groups and other non-university managed platforms have been used in ways that caused distress to students and led to disciplinary investigations. The Buddy Scheme was created on Vygo as a less formal space than a classroom, but it is endorsed by the university and can support their academic journey.

3. Increased Retention Rates:

Research suggests that those who are involved in a Buddy scheme are less likely to drop out because they feel more supported and connected to their institution.

Magda highlighted that we’re also starting to see some ‘positive results when looking at comparative withdrawal data for the first academic semester’ which outlines reasons given for students withdrawing since 2019-20. Data highlighting ‘challenges like enrolment (for international students due to visa changes) show a drop in attrition in the number of students since last year across both UG and PG cohorts. In particular, there’s been a decrease in students citing mental health issues/emotional wellbeing, as well as a downward trend in other key areas.

4. Enhanced Sense of Belonging:

Feeling part of a community is crucial for mental and emotional well-being. The Buddy Scheme has provided a sense of belonging, reducing feelings of isolation.

The introduction of the group chat has allowed students to not only ask questions and have connections with their Buddy, but also network with their peers, make friends and meet up socially.

5. Reduced Administrative Burden:

By offloading some mentoring and support functions to trained peer buddies, the university's staff can focus on other important tasks, thereby improving the efficiency of the institution.

Magda mentioned that the ‘administrative processes involved with running the scheme and matching new students to their peer mentor will be more efficient allowing more time to be spent on improving the student experience with the scheme.’

QMUL can now provide actionable data on student engagement with the scheme, allowing them to improve the scheme for future cohorts and potentially increase the number of new students being supported.

By fostering a supportive and inclusive environment, a peer buddy scheme can enhance the educational experience for students and contribute positively to the university's culture and academic success. The Buddy Scheme is also a scalable way to increase the support for students without adding more work for the already stretched university staff. 

Co-Authored by;

Magda Chanopoulou

Head of Student Life, Queen Mary University of London.

Hannah Gardner

Director of Partnerships (EMEA), Vygo.


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