Jobs in Higher Education (HE) have the same versatility as those in FE. As a result, the skills and commitment of those working as lecturers, specialist and department heads are very similar. This dedication to the wellbeing of young people, those traversing the world of adulthood and deeper learning, will often face new struggles.
As a leader and touch point for these students, they will look to you for support. Here are 5 ways in which you can empower and help HE students.
Don’t assume anything
Assumption and presumption are two of the quickest problem makers. They can also exacerbate a situation. Remember that every student is different and that you can’t know their personal history, background or what issues are affecting them - nor should you.
There is a fine between being aware of what your students are going through, be it stress, financial struggles or just a bad day, and trying to solve a problem that you think is occurring. It's safest for both staff and HE students that nothing is assumed.
Equally, it's important not to be dismissive of issues that you don’t understand or aren’t familiar with. Be sympathetic when approached and seek mutually agreed, practical solutions.
Know your campus’ support services
The greatest tool for anyone in a learning environment is information. That extends to leaders, teachers and all staff at an FE or HE institution. Knowing what support services are available on your campus, or at nearby facilities, will help arm you to support HE students.
A quick checklist of services to be aware of, where you might also be able to pick up leaflets or make contact with staff ahead of time, are:
Student Unions & Advice Centres
- Advice on housing, on and off campus
- Council Tax Assistance
- Help with employment and job seekers
Drop In Services
- Admissions - queries and issues related to enrollment
- Funding - Information on loans, tuition fees and emergency funding
- Erasmus and Internal Student Support - including Visas
- GPs - on and off campus GP services
- Mental Health Support - including therapists, counsellors and advisors
- Sexual Health Clinics - safe sex, STIs and sexual health related concerns
Work within your limits and responsibilities
Knowing what HE student support services available will make you feel more secure in knowing where your limits lie.
Students may come to you out of the blue, or you may see signs that they are struggling; this can be in the form of poor attendance or lowering quality of work. Either way, don’t be afraid of tears or small breakdowns in your students. Be sympathetic and considerate, but don’t assume (there is that key reminder again) that you need to solve the problem.
Your responsibility as an educator or HE worker only extends as far as you feel comfortable. This does not include giving them advice on medication, acting as a counsellor or financial advisor.
Higher Education students will face a number of new scenarios and situations. If they get along well with you or they feel comfortable enough to approach you, give them the tools or contacts they need to get help that you are not able to provide.
Lead by example, look after yourself
Maintaining perspective is something that we can all struggle with. In order to lead by example, you need to make sure you are keeping a balance between your work and personal life, in being a teacher and a learner.
Being in a position of authority, both as an expert in your field and a classroom leader means that you are looked on to be a good role model. This can be a struggle. But if you can’t find your own ways to support yourself, how can you be expected to help others? Or enable others to come to come to you when they need support or advice?
Lead by example and look after yourself.
Spotting early signs
Don’t blame yourself if you don’t spot the early signs in students. You may not be able to tell if a student is depressed if they are having family troubles or struggling to understand a concept.
Importantly, as a sympathetic figure, you can make yourself available, along with making other student support services known to the HE students, but you are not responsible for seeing every issue before it arises.
If a student comes to you suddenly with a serious problem, don’t blame yourself for not seeing the signs. This will only make you less effective at helping both this HE student and any future students. Instead, point them to where they can get help and be armed with the information you need to support the student next time.