Student services: a one-stop shop but not one size fits all

“Increasingly we are faced with students whose emotional needs are complex. Working in isolation is not a healthy option; collaboration is hugely beneficial both for the student and the college”

In recent times, schools, colleges, and universities have had to accept and adapt to the demands of an increasingly consumer-driven education market, writes Mary Memarzia, director of student services at Bellerbys College. They are embracing, albeit at times uncomfortably, the language of the commercial world.

However, the benefit of this shift has been a renewed focus on the whole student experience.

Creating and sustaining an effective interplay between academic provision and pastoral care lies at the heart of the matter; an effective student service provision is key to a truly student-centred institution. In the business of education, the students’ needs must come first.

A tall order

The responsibility of student services is to identify what those individual needs are and to put in place practical and relevant support. We can only do this if we make sure that the services provided are inclusive, equitable and tailor-made. The challenge is to have close oversight of the individual, whilst also keeping an eye on the context of international education. All members of the team have a vital part to play.

This year the spotlight has fallen particularly on the work of the visa compliance officers, whose knowledge of new regulations needs to be robust, so they can explain and apply them in the most complex of cases.

There is no doubt that the education landscape which international students have to navigate is both unfamiliar and challenging: from the increasingly rigorous visa process, to the practicalities of settling into new accommodation and building a new social circle.

On top of this, differences in course content, assessment methods and teaching styles, as well as language and comprehension, can hold up progress. Alongside high-quality resources for learning and expert teaching, student services provision must be responsive to both individual needs and the ever-changing pressures placed upon young people.

Collaborative working

Student services needs to be clearly signposted as the all-hours one-stop shop for students to pick up relevant information, accessible advice and practical help. The footfall through the student services office can be heavy, so the question is: how to meet and sustain this demand on our services?

Beyond an accessible and responsive provision, we need to hook up the work of our student services to the wider network of local and national support services. In this way our provision is robust.

Increasingly we are faced with students whose emotional needs are complex. Working in isolation is not a healthy option; collaboration is hugely beneficial both for the student and the college.

Partnerships ensure that students can access specialist services when they need them and they are more likely to engage with those services if the access to them is readily available. It is reassuring for staff to know that we can draw on this support when we feel our own expertise may fall short. When referring, we should not be seen to be turning our customers away, rather directing them onwards.

Looking ahead

In thinking about how to meet the diverse needs of the international student community we need to listen closely to the voices in that community. By engaging students in the conversation and planning, we can ensure that our service is enhanced by the fresh ideas that students bring from their different cultural backgrounds. A service that is adaptive and relevant to changing customer needs is likely to be well-used and appreciated.

Students who feel effectively supported are more likely to reach their goals and have the reserves of time and energy to give back to the community. Students who leave feeling well-served, both academically and personally, will not only look back on their days with us as time well spent but are also more likely to make further investment in education in future.