The Inaugural Pacific Rim First Year Experience Conference Queensland University of Technology 11-14 July 1995 "Academic Counselling At The University of Strathclyde: Beginnings, Middles, Ends ? By Bill Johnston and Lin McLean Bill Johnston is Co-Ordinator of Learning and Information Resources at the University's Centre for Academic Practice, and has a particular interest in student study skills and learning strategies allied to an interest in staff development. Lin McLean is Adviser to students at the University's Student Advisory and Counselling Service, and has a particular interest in student finance. She previously worked with the Strathclyde University Students Association as Welfare Officer. Contact Details Bill Johnston, Centre for Academic Practice, University of Strathclyde, Graham Hills Building, 50 George St., Glasgow G1 1QE Telephone: 041-552 4400 Ext 4063/2636 FAX: 041-553 2053 Lin McLean,Student Advisory and Counselling Service, University of Strathclyde, Graham Hills Building, 50 George Street Glasgow G1 1QE Telephone: 041-552 4400 Ext 4331 FAX 041-552 7362 1) Introduction The University of Strathclyde has recognised the need to support students as individuals and this decision finds major systematic expression in the Academic Counselling Scheme. The scheme has been a feature of the undergraduate experience for many years and is in line with U.K. traditions regarding the pastoral care and support of students. The growing interest in external assessment of quality of educational provision has raised awareness of the importance of student support, and Strathclyde has received a visit from the CVCP Academic Audit team (1992), and participated in the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) pilot quality assessment visit (1992). With formal quality assessment having begun in early 1993, review and enhancement of student support systems were high on the institutional agenda and remain so. The purpose of this paper is to describe the Academic Counselling Scheme, by which undergraduate students at Strathclyde University have access to a lecturer who can offer help in coping with the pressures of developing academic competence and maintaining personal balance during a degree course. This purpose will be achieved by outlining the scheme from the perspective of both academic and student, and detailing the changing organisational context within which the scheme operates. Information concerning the University's central support services is appended. The authors' specific involvement with the Academic Counselling Scheme dates from the beginnings of the schemes' enhancement in 1989, and flows from their professional roles in student support and counselling. Their involvement encompasses the following:-guiding and co-ordinating Faculty approaches to organisation and delivery of the scheme to students; -production of a guide to the scheme which offered concise information on the relevant interpersonal skills required by academics in the academic counselling role and provision, for the first time, of a comprehensive descriptive listing of the University's support services; -creation and delivery of training sessions for academic staff; -production of a policy paper for Senate detailing proposals to enhance the operation of the scheme (accepted and currently being implemented); -production of print and video guides to the scheme for students. Their experience has the particular distinction of meshing the approaches to student support offered by the Centre for Academic Practice in terms of the development of student learning strategies allied to academic staff development, and the Student Advisory and Counselling Service's focus on meeting the personal, interpersonal and 2. financial needs of students. 2) Background Strathclyde achieved University status in 1964 having previously been the Royal College of Science and Technology. It is situated in Glasgow city centre and has Faculties of Engineering, Science, Business and Arts & Social Sciences. During 1993 a fifth faculty of Education was added following the merger of Jordanhill College of Education with the University. The University is presently the third largest in Scotland after the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, both of which have Medical Faculties. In UK terms Strathclyde is classed as one of the 'traditional' universities in terms of the abolition of the binary line between Universities and Polytechnics . The current student population is 13,000 full-time students of whom 87% are drawn from the local West of Scotland area; 55% are home-based and 29% are mature students. Once at the University undergraduates are taught within a modular course structure which operates via a semester system and which varies in point of detail from Faculty to Faculty, but is aimed at increasing the range of subject options and combinations available to students. 3) Description of the Scheme a. The staff perspective Academic Counsellors are not professional counsellors, financial advisers or doctors, and nobody expects them to be. In practice it is enough for a lecturer acting as an Academic Counsellor to be sensitive to student expectations, approach the task systematically, be familiar with the available central support services and establish caring relationships with students. The academic counsellor therefore fulfils a variety of roles which can be typified as:Friend:provides stable reference point; demonstrates that the student is recognised and known personally; provides a safe environment where concerns and anxieties can be expressed. Guide:clarifies the University's values and demands; advocates the student's needs within the institution. Mentor:supports the student's developing academic, social and emotional identity; keeps an overview of the student's progress through the degree course. 3. The main element of the Academic Counsellor's task is:Establishing Student Needs The basic approach is for the Academic Counsellor to assume that all is well with the student and to proceed by seeking reassurance that this is the case. A helpful framework of five categories of student need has been devised to enable counsellors to develop profiles of their student counsellees. Academic eg. course choice; study; workload; subjects; topics; exams; failure; Personal eg. health; emotions; life changes; Interpersonal eg. relationships; groups; communication; Financial eg. income; budgeting; debt; crisis; funding agencies; Accommodation eg. type; adequacy. Disturbances within any of these categories can vitally affect a student's wellbeing, so Academic Counsellors are asked, as far as possible, to become familiar with an individual's circumstances in each area. 4. Academic Counsellors gain familiarity with their students by meeting them regularly. If matters arise which the Counsellor and the student cannot manage between themselves, then the Counsellor has a list of the full range of the University's central support services and can quickly arrange a referral; to the Health Service or Student Advisory and Counselling Service for example. Since October 1991 all staff have been issued with "One To One", a booklet giving detailed information on the Counselling, role, the tasks involved and a detailed reference guide to University support services. The guide not only specifies names and telephone numbers, but provides a concise overview of the services provided related to the five areas of need detailed above. (see Appendix 1.) b. The student perspective Most students coming to University need help to make the transition from school, college, work or unemployment. As their student career develops it is important that they become independent learners and become more effective in their lives within and outside University. Otherwise their experience of University will be diminished, and in some cases prejudiced. The Academic Counsellor is in the front line of support to students, and the personal relationship which develops between student and Counsellor can be a major focus for the maintenance and development of individual student wellbeing. The minimum a student can expect from an Academic Counsellor is: - regular meetings - opportunity for discussion - willingness to meet at the student's request The Academic Counsellor is responsible for arranging meetings, however the responsibility for making the relationship work is shared between student and Counsellor, so students have a measure of control over what they get out of any particular meeting. Regular meetings are the basis of the scheme and usually take place in the lecturer's room. There will be 3/4 in first year and students are expected to attend. Some Academic Counsellors arrange meetings for a group of students and this can help students get to know other people. The purpose of meetings is to allow relationships to develop whilst providing an opportunity for specific questions to be addressed and problems identified. Discussion is not confined to purely academic matters, in fact the Counsellor may not be involved in teaching on the student's course. Before meetings students should consider anything which is bothering them and interfering with work and enjoyment of student life. It is up to the student to decide how much or how little of their lives they want to disclose to the Academic Counsellor. 5. During meetings time is inevitably limited but if the student has prepared and the lecturer is skilled in exploring student concerns, then a lot can be achieved on a basis of the Counsellor helping the student to decide how best to deal with particular concerns. In many cases it is enough to simply agree the date of the next meeting, but from time to time it may be necessary to refer the student to a central support service. Since September 1992 all new undergraduates are issued with "Face to Face", a booklet giving detailed information about the Academic Counselling scheme and including a reference guide to University support services. They receive this from their Academic Counsellor during Registration and as far as possible the first meeting is arranged at this point and written into the calendar section of the booklet. After first year the expectation is that having invested time in developing a relationship the student will seek out the Counsellor when a need arises. Each Faculty has its own arrangements for complementing student self-referral so that no student should ever completely lose touch with their Counsellor. Additionally, University support services are available to students on demand. 4) The organisational context Firstly, the operation of the Counselling scheme needs to be viewed in the context of differing practices at Faculty level. Degree structures in Engineering and Science locate students in particular departments on entry and this permits the Faculties to operate Academic Counselling at Departmental level. In the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Strathclyde Business School, however, students are admitted on a Faculty basis and consequently do not identify with a particular department until the later years of their course. Counselling in Arts and Business therefore operates on the basis of pools of staff who may not have a departmental connection with their counsellees. Consequently it can be difficult to monitor effectiveness and establish best practice across the University. In addition, the scheme is presently being extended to operate in the new Faculty of Education. Secondly, there have been various concerns expressed about the scheme over the years. Questions have been raised over the degree to which Academic Counselling is perceived as a mainstream activity, or simply a peripheral extra. These questions have focused on issues such as lack of clarity on the part of academic staff concerning the limits to the Counselling role, the skills needed and the resources available to support them in carrying out the role effectively. Students have voiced concern regarding the scheme's apparent lack of formal structure and variable commitment on the part of staff. Equally, concern has been expressed about the apparent lack of interest in the scheme displayed by students themselves. In addition to these internal matters, the U.K. Government's insistence on external assessment of the quality of education provided by institutions, has added further pressure to enhance the scheme. The CVCP Academic Audit report on Strathclyde was published during early 1992 and therefore falls between the production of the "One To One" booklet, which aimed to enhance awareness of the scheme and clarify staff practice in terms of managing relationships 6. with students, and "Face To Face", which aimed to provide students with the detailed information needed to get the most value out of the relationship with the Academic Counsellor. The Academic Audit Report praised the scheme as detailed in "One To One", and noted that the University was considering "... how the student counselling arrangements might be communicated and targeted more effectively to the student population." (para. 25 of the report). "Face to Face" was a major outcome of that consideration, but it must be seen in the context of Senate's review of the scheme during late 1991 and early 1992. Essentially Senate resolved to implement an enhanced scheme during 1992/93 which featured an ethos based on the notion of improving the quality of student experience as a whole via personal relations with academics, in addition to an approach focused on identifying and solving purely personal problems. This leads to an approach based on:- a simple model for the counselling scheme; - a set of operational conditions to underpin that model; 7. which taken together are aimed at providing an organisational context for the application of the skills detailed in "One To One". Additionally it is hoped that the suggested approach will assist Strathclyde in identifying, anticipating and providing an institutional environment that will facilitate the wellbeing and success of students. The basis for the model is the degree course and the student experience of coming to terms with student life and developing a stronger sense of personal and academic independence over the three/four years of a course. In practice this is intended to operate as a proactive, front-line scheme operated by academics, and involving students, aimed at ensuring that undergraduates get known by staff who have the skills and commitment to help them. In order to achieve this efficiently and effectively, effort is to be concentrated on establishing strong relationships in first year using regular meetings sequenced to anticipate major events in the assessment of student progress, so that no student would be in the position of facing exams without the benefit of prior discussion with their counsellor. In order to implement a workable scheme based on this model, a number of operational conditions have been identified which the scheme should display. These are; greater organisational structure and consistency; a higher degree of student awareness, involvement and support; more back-up for academic counsellors from the support services; further professional development for Academic Counsellors. A further element of external pressure was the establishment of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) which assumed funding responsibility for relevant Scottish institutions in April 1993. SHEFC has specific responsibility for quality assurance and is obliged by legislation to investigate the quality of provision in the institutions which it funds, and to take account of its findings in funding decisions. SHEFC conducts assessments by subject discipline and has developed a detailed "Quality Framework" to support departmental self-assessment and visits by quality assessors . The section of the framework document with most apparent relevance to the Academic Counselling scheme is reproduced in Appendix 2. 5. Conclusion The pastoral care offered to students by academics has been enhanced by providing lecturers with clear advice and training on the nature and limits of their pastoral role, the basic counselling skills required, the likely areas of student need and the profile of available support service. Equally student understanding of the supports available has been enhanced with the consequence that both groups now have a more realistic and balanced perception of the means available to assist with the transition from school, college etc. to university. Both groups have provided positive feedback via questionnaire survey and the total scheme has been positively evaluated by external assessors of teaching quality and student support. 8. Appendix 1. Central Support Services The services fall into three categories:1. Core Services which provide help across the full range of needs - academic, personal, interpersonal, financial and accommodation. These are: - Student Advisory and Counselling Service (home students only) - Adviser to Overseas students (E.C. and others) - Chaplaincy (all students regardless of nationality) 2. Specialist Services such as: - Centre for Academic Practice (academic skills) - Student Health Service (medical advice) 3. Alternative Services: - Students Association Welfare Service (all students) All the services operate communication networks in order to help students and this is valuable where individual students need information and guidance in more than one area. The following service matrix provides a detailed outline of what each service provides in terms of the five general areas of potential student need. 9. Appendix 2. Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) - 1995/96 Quality Element: Section H. Student Support .1 The need of all students for guidance and support is recognised and provision made for advice and assistance in the curricular, vocational and personal domains. .2 Responsibility for particular aspects of student support is clearly located and effective liaison maintained between arrangements at course/departmental level and institution-wide services. .3 Adequate provision is made for information and advice to potential students during the application and enrolment phase. .4 Adequate provision is made for support for students who are physically disadvantaged or who have disabilities which lead to specific learning difficulties. .5 Students are effectively supported during their studies by systems of induction, course tutors, personal tutors and provision for remediation and curricular choice. .6 Students are prepared for the next stage of study or employment by appropriate information, advice and training. .7 Among individual staff there is a general feeling of concern for the well-being of students. Student Needs Support Services Student Advisory and Counselling Service (home students) Academic Appeals,voluntary suspension,change of course,repeat year. Support for staff with the counselling task and role. Personal Interpersonal Financial Crisis/Help: Emergency Aid Fund,Access Fund, Student Loans, Maintenance Grants, Alternative sources of finance. Debt counselling/money management advice. Childcare Fund Accommodation Liaison with housing agencies eg admission to Halls. Intervention with landlords. Counselling (short/long term) Support: loneliness, isolation, Addictions assertiveness, relationship Bereavement problems, life changes. Self-harm Sexuality Aids/HIV Harassment Stress Legal referral Crisis Intervention Orientation, support, advice on immigration procedures. Overseas wives group, orientation meetings, resource material. Group activities, o/s students welcome programme. Communication with staff / students. Group interaction. International Student Adviser Appeals, change of course. Support for staff Sources of funding; Emergency Aid Fund. Childcare Fund Liaison with housing agencies. Chaplaincy Long/Short term counselling. Referral to specialist agencies. Help can sometimes be given with "crash" accommodation. Centre for Academic Practice Study skills workshops on time management, exam preparation, academic writing, revision techniques etc. Oral presentation workshops. Dyslexia. Individual support for students; support for appeals etc. Training in counselling for staff. Appeals, Exam boards, medical certificates, background reports. Motivation, transferable skills. Student Health Service Physical / psychological illness, eating disorders. Sexually transmitted diseases. Supporting letters for SED re repeat year grants. Support for places in Halls. Family Planning / Well Woman Clinic Residence Services Pregnancy, contraception, smear tests. S.T.D’s Loneliness Adapting to new lifestyle Peer group support Referral Advice on availability of special equipment - scribes, braillers etc Forward Planning discontinuation Advice on change of course. Degree regulations, appeals. Exam results Representation on Academic appeals; University discipline procedures; Senate / student committee. Support, referral to specialist agencies Childcare via SUSA playgroup Safety - personal alarms Referral for legal advice. Choices about life-changes Sexual difficulties Flat disputes Social activities Help/advice on housing options and problems. Occasional emergency accommodation. Tony Martin Co-ordinator - Disabled Students Careers Advisory Service Advice on Disabled Students Allowance. Alternative sources of finance. Interview skills, C.V.s Self presentation Summer job vacancies. Registry and Faculty Officers Strathclyde University Students' Association Mature Students Association Clubs and Societies Post Grad. Society Lesbian and Gay Society Grants, alternative sources of finance, summer jobs file, Flat vacancies.