Peer-mentoring in a pandemic: an evaluation of a series of new departmental peer-mentor schemes created to support student belonging and transition during COVID-19


  • Megan Bruce Durham University
  • Caroline Durham University
  • Geetanjali Durham University
  • Lewis Durham University
  • Adrian Durham University


The rapid move to predominately online learning engendered by the COVID-19 crisis created an urgent need for rethinking support mechanisms central to student engagement and transition, namely community-building and identity within the institution. One important support mechanism, practised and widely researched in a variety of pre-pandemic contexts (e.g. Hall and Jaugietis, 2011), is peer mentoring. This article describes the establishment of student peer mentor schemes in several departments of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Health at Durham University in academic year 2020-21 and assesses their nature and effectiveness. Whilst the shift to online delivery of teaching was  anxiety provoking, it also catalysed ongoing engagement efforts. Staff were conscious that peer mentor schemes could be vital in supporting new students - particularly those from marginalised backgrounds - whilst also offering continuing students another connection to the university by volunteering as mentors.


This article offers several novel approaches and insights. Firstly, we explore and integrate perspectives of staff and students (acting as mentors and mentees). In so doing, we co-create this research alongside students who have been integral to the development of the departmental schemes. Relatedly, our research emphasis is on identifying elements of the schemes that may not have worked well, with the practical aim of devising and implementing improvements. This is significant in a recent literature that tends to lack a clear (self-) critical edge. Secondly the mixed methodology, combining quantitative questionnaire data with qualitative focus group insights, is surprisingly under-utilised in research in this area. Third, this research relates, of course, to an unprecedentedly challenging context for staff and students alike in the higher education (HE) sector, engendered by the COVID-19 crisis. Naturally, the literature with this recent focus is limited in quantity and scope. We develop these critical points in the literature review section below. The third section considers research context, the fourth covers research design and our findings are reported in the fifth section. In the spirit of action research, the sixth section offers our guiding principles, developed in light of our findings, for those wishing to develop departmental peer mentor schemes (McAteer, 2013; McNiff, 2013; Elliott, 1991).


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How to Cite

Bruce, M., Dodd-Reynolds, C., Gangoli, G., Mates, L., & Millican, A. (2023). Peer-mentoring in a pandemic: an evaluation of a series of new departmental peer-mentor schemes created to support student belonging and transition during COVID-19 . Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal, 5(1), 61–82. Retrieved from