Studying for a university degree can be challenging, but as the saying goes – nothing worth doing is ever easy. As is often the case, life can get in the way for even the most organised and well-prepared people. It can take time to adjust to a demanding study schedule and a new city. Today’s students are also experiencing pressures related to rising living costs and increased tuition fees, and there is evidence to suggest that a worryingly high proportion of students are dealing with mental ill health, and sexual harassment.
At the University of Salford, Student Progression Administrators (SPAs) have been appointed in each School, helping students to overcome any problems they may face during their university journey.
Crucially, most SPAs are also recent graduates. Their experiences of university life mean that they are well-placed to understand and advise on a broad range of student issues. A key function of the role is to work closely with academic and professional services staff to ensure that students are aware of the full range of support services available, and how to access them.
The SPA role can vary slightly in each School, but the purpose remains to support students of concern, signposting them to the relevant support services, and offering advice and guidance. Sophie Wilshaw, SPA for the School of Arts and Media, reveals why she applied for the role:
“Having previously worked in student facing support roles at other universities, I was keen to build on my experience of meeting students, engaging in their progression and raising aspirations. When applying for the role, I knew it would be based in the School of Arts and Media, which appealed to me greatly – my BA was in the arts, so I believed I could offer students advice and guidance based on some of my own experiences.”
The SPA programme addresses a concerning issue that students experiencing difficulties are not speaking out, for example the NUS found that 78% of students do not know who to speak to if they experience bullying, and the IPPR Not By Degrees report found that 49% of students with a mental health condition did not disclose this to their university. Furthermore, a ProtectED national student survey found that 86% of those who have been sexually assaulted did not tell their university. As Sophie explains “Whether it be something that I can refer on to another department, member of staff or support service, I would prefer a student to approach me with a query than to not raise it with anyone.”
Sophie supports students dealing with a wide range of issues, but some of the most common revolve around attendance, non-submission of assignments, student mental health, accommodation, and interruptions and withdrawals. In some cases, students may feel that their problems are too minor to consider seeking help. However, the problem may build into something that feels unmanageable, leading students to believe that they have no alternative but to withdraw from university. With early intervention, the SPAs can help coordinate the appropriate support.
Students have a number of options when it comes to contacting SPAs, including via phone, email or by booking a 1-to-1 session, which can also be arranged by phone or email, or the University’s Advantage system.
In addition to being accessible, service awareness-raising is also key to ensuring the success of the SPA scheme. The SPA role is promoted to students through brightly-coloured posters, including contact details, which are displayed in buildings across each School. SPAs will also check on students personally, contacting them directly using their University email, or by phone. The availability of the support service is announced on the University’s virtual learning environment, Blackboard, and recommended to students by academic and support service staff.
Crucially, Sophie and her SPA colleagues also attend the programme of welcome talks given to new students during Induction Week each year. This enables the SPAs to make themselves known, and make students aware of the central support services available. By having familiar faces at the frontline of student support, students are more likely to know where to go and who to speak to. With the appropriate support in place, students will be better equipped maintain good mental wellbeing – a springboard from which to reach their full potential.
What schemes and initiatives are in place at your university to ensure student safety and wellbeing? Please get in touch to tell us more.