Supporting staff to be supporters
As explained in the opening chapters, the dual impact of the ‘massification’ and the ‘wideification’ of higher education (HE) presents challenges for us as practitioners in helping students make both the transition to HE from school, college or return to study and then support students through the respective stages of the student lifecycle as described in the Practitioner Model. A number of factors, which are driven both by the reality of the student experience and the expectations of the students themselves, necessitate supporting staff to be supporters. This chapter will look at ways in which staff themselves can be supported in supporting the student experience through drawing on the experience of practitioners involved in this process. There is limited literature on supporting staff to support students except for those produced ‘in-house’ by staff engaged in such projects in their respective higher education institutions (HEIs). Accordingly, the case studies in this chapter provide examples of initiatives that can readily be applied to the reader’s own institution. The student lifecycle comprises distinct stages through which the student needs the appropriate support and assistance to facilitate their progression. It is important for staff to support students through each stage and for these staff to receive the support and training from the institution to assist them in this process. The focus of improving the student experience has very much been on the student, with staff support being neglected. With students paying more money for their studies across the international HE sector and a corresponding growing ‘consumer’ culture in HE, students are expecting and demanding a quality service from HEIs in terms of facilities and support. For example, the immediacy of modern communication, such as texting and social networking sites, generates an expectation for students to receive instant responses to queries and to be signposted to the relevant support services by staff. Students will therefore assume that staff will possess the relevant knowledge and expertise to provide the relevant support for their student experience. Furthermore, as explained in the Practitioner Model, students tend to identify more closely with their ‘home unit’. As a result, staff in the home unit will often be the first port of call for students with an enquiry about their studies, facilities or support provision. Therefore, it is important that all staff in the home unit are informed about the range of home unit and university level services and facilities available to support students at the various stages of their student lifecycle. To facilitate this process, there needs to be a close collaborative partnership between the home unit and central departments who are normally responsible for student support provision.