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."

News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links