Student pastoral care: All the support you'll need

Universities and student unions have joined forces to strengthen welfare networks for undergraduates

Starting at university is exciting and daunting in equal measure. While a higher level of study, the chance to make new friends, the increased independence of managing your own money and, perhaps, the adventure of living away from home all sound very exciting, it's also a little scary. Are you clever enough? Will your coursemates like you? Can you manage a budget without sinking? The answer to all these concerns is overwhelmingly yes – and universities and student unions are working together to offer the support you need to thrive.

"Issues can arise when people change their lifestyle so significantly," says Paul Norman, membership services manager at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) students' union. "Students might come here from a more sheltered environment, or they might be used to having family around them. Going to somewhere unknown can be hard."

University services and student unions – the latter of whom are represented by the National Union of Students (NUS) – are there to help. "We provide online advice and support through our website, and we work with students' unions to help them support students locally," says Jo Goodman, research and policy officer at the NUS. "University student unions often have advice centres where students can go with anything from money worries to issues about housing or problems with their course. These services offer independent advice."

At Nottingham Trent University (NTU), the university and the union work together and can "cross-promote avenues of support", confirms Marcus Boswell, vice-president of services and communications at the NTU student union. "We share our thoughts, expertise and knowledge of what students go through. So if someone has a certain type of problem, we'll know where to direct them." This combined effort results in a robust support system in most higher education institutions. The success of these is reflected in student satisfaction rates – a score given by final year undergraduates for the quality of teaching, academic support and resources they receive.

The MMU student union's advice centre can help with short-term and longer-term issues, says Norman. "For example, students' funding entitlements may have been misassessed, or there might be housing issues. Some people move in to halls and don't like them – or they may have asked to be in a flat with all women, five minutes from their main building and find themselves in a mixed flat 20 minutes away. We can help people with these types of immediate issues." For ongoing problems, empowerment is often the key to resolution. "Someone who's not happy on their course can usually transfer – but often just knowing that and deciding not to helps them feel in control," says Norman.

Norman describes the MMU union advice centre as a Citizens Advice bureau within the student community. "It offers independent, non-judgmental guidance on housing, academic issues, funding issues and debt." And, like the union at NTU, it works with the university student support services. "We work with the counselling service, for instance," Norman explains. Additionally, every student has a personal tutor, and there are halls wardens – members of staff, living in halls, with a security and pastoral role. "If you find yourself in trouble, it can be quite difficult to ask for help – so having someone else in a professional capacity to make that referral is very important," says Norman.

Information may be available online and via social media, too. At the University of Leeds, the student union website provides information on grants, loans and bursaries, with a special section for new students. Student "money ambassadors" blog about budgeting, give money-saving tips, and share cost-effective recipes. At the advice centre, meanwhile, students can get one-to-one help.

And then there's Freshers' Week, once synonymous with hedonism, which today offers a great deal more than wild parties. "Freshers' Week events enable students to meet each other and form informal support networks," says Goodman. "Unions ensure that there's a range of events – making sure those who don't drink, for example, can get involved. There might also be specific events for groups such as mature students or student parents, and faith societies often run their own welcome events."

There are also measures to provide ongoing support – NTU's Fresherettes being an excellent case in point. "They're students who've been here for at least a year. They receive training to deal with welfare issues, to spot signs of distress, and of Meningitis C," Boswell explains. "They're there to support and guide new students, and they often make friendships that last throughout the years."

"Societies can also help people make friends and build networks, whether that's basket-weaving, rollerblading or rugby league," Norman adds. "They help people feel part of a community, and that helps them to be successful."

"Getting involved in clubs and societies can really help new students feel part of the student body and meet like-minded people," Goodman agrees. "This can help prevent isolation – especially for students who aren't living on campus. It can be a good way to make friends outside the academic environment. Finding ways to stay active – such as joining a sports club – can be really beneficial for a student's mental wellbeing, too, enabling them to meet people, stay active and get involved. So much of university is beyond the classroom. Getting involved in students' union activities can be a really integral part of a student's overall experience."

Looking at the bigger picture, meanwhile, "unions are democratic organisations and officers are elected to represent students on key issues," says Goodman. "If there's a problem facing students at a particular institution, the union can represent them to the university or local authority and campaign proactively for change."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty

Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Designer Oscar de la Renta takes a bow after showing his Spring 2015 collection in September, his last show before his death
fashionThe passing of the legendary designer has left a vacancy: couturier to America’s royalty, says fashion editor Alexander Fury
Life and Style

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

KS2 supply teacher

£80 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting fo...

KS1 Supply Teacher

£80 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting fo...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

ICT Teacher for Maternity cover

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job * This is a new post...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album