Avoiding the Deficit Model and Defining Student Success: Perspectives from a New Foundation Year Context

  • Gerald Dampier University of Surrey
  • Lewis A. Baker University of Surrey
  • Carol Spencely University of Surrey
  • Nicholas J. Edwards University of Surrey
  • Erivan White University of Surrey
  • Alison M. Taylor University of Surrey


This paper discusses the establishment of two new foundation year programmes at the University of Surrey; one in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences and the other in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Specifically, it explores how the programmes have been constructed and how programme teams have attempted to avoid the ‘deficit model’ by adopting a student-centred approach that focuses on the development of successful students when considering staffing expertise and curriculum design. This is followed by an exploration of staff and student perspectives on what constitutes a successful foundation year student. Finally, the paper comments on how success will be measured in the future, suggesting that, whilst specific metrics might serve as indicators of success, no single metric is likely to capture the complicated nature of what success is and what it looks like for the individuals we teach. Overall, the paper suggests that the question, ‘What is a successful foundation year student?’ should be considered carefully in the process of designing and developing foundation year programmes.


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Author Biographies

Gerald Dampier, University of Surrey

Gerald has been a Teaching Fellow in Learning Development attached to the Foundation Programme in Business, Economics and Management at the University of Surrey since 2018. Previous experience includes 14 years in English for Academic Purposes, Learning Development and academic management roles at Royal Holloway, University of London; he has also taught English as a Foreign Language in the UK, Greece and Japan.

Lewis A. Baker, University of Surrey

Lewis completed his MPhys and PhD in Mathematical Biology and Biophysical Chemistry at the University of Warwick in 2017. He then trained as a secondary-school teacher before combining these experiences in his current position as Teaching Fellow on the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Foundation Year at the University of Surrey.

Carol Spencely, University of Surrey

Carol is currently a Teaching Fellow in Learning Development on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Foundation Year at the University of Surrey. Carol originally trained as a clinical immunologist and completed a BSc (Hons) in Physiology and Pharmacology, and a Masters in Pathological Sciences. Following a PhD in Immunology at Liverpool and research and teaching positions at Imperial College London, Carol moved to the dark side of professional services and helped to set up the Postdoc Development Centre at Imperial. Carol joined the University of Surrey’s Doctoral College in 2012 before taking up her current position in 2018.

Nicholas J. Edwards, University of Surrey

Nicholas has taught on foundation years since 2016 and joined the University of Surrey as a Teaching Fellow for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (business and economics) in 2018. Nicholas has taken a break from completing his PhD to set up the Foundation Year at Surrey but promises to return to it soon.

Erivan White, University of Surrey

Erivan started teaching for the Open University soon after completing his MA at the University of York. He has since taught in a variety of FE/HE settings and spent several years as a senior manager in a large sixth-form college. Having taught a variety of subjects at Access and A Level he was keen to lend his experience to the new Foundation Year in Business and Economics at the University of Surrey where he now teaches full-time.

Alison M. Taylor, University of Surrey

Alison completed a BEng (Hons) in Materials Technology and then a PhD in Surface Analysis at the University of Surrey. She spent 23 years teaching Physical Sciences at Level 3 at a large high performing state secondary school. She currently holds the post of Teaching Fellow on the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Foundation Year, having returned to the University of Surrey.