Information for University Staff

What are the purposes of a university education? Most students and especially their parents would be particularly interested in the increased potential for a well-remunerated career (i.e., assured employability). Historically universities have had another purpose, however, and that is to provide students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that would enable them to (a) better themselves as individuals, in a holistic sense, and (b) contribute positively to their local, national and international communities. In doing so, they strive to make the world a better place for those less fortunate than themselves—those who did not have the financial or psychological resources necessary to undertake tertiary education studies.

If we accept this two-pronged mandate for universities/colleges, then not only do educators need to be experts in a particular discipline or profession, but we also need to be mindful of the wider societal implications regarding what kind of people we graduate. Although we cannot “make” students into “better people” (whatever that means), we can afford them opportunities to better understand themselves, other people, the nature of the physical and social world, and their potential role in helping to make the world a better place for everyone.

A critical aspect of that mandate is to help students to survive and thrive during their studies. As the OLT Project section explains, research has indicated that university/college students are more highly stressed than the general population. Given the context of (a) that particular developmental stage in a young person’s life, and (b) the demanding nature of university/college education, this situation is not surprising. However, we know that multiple stressors can make people vulnerable to physical and mental illness, which decreases the chances that students will be able to successfully complete their studies. Thus, increased capacity for “self-management”, including effective planning and being able to recover from set-backs (i.e., resilience), are particularly relevant for university students, and if developed well during their time at university, should also generalize to other contexts and times, such as their personal and professional lives post-graduation. 

Student support staff play a critical role in this process of facilitating student surviving and thriving. Their various roles (eg international student advisor, psychologist, librarian, student support officer) reflect both the diversity of student “categorization” as well as administrative structures across different higher education providers. Quality higher education demands adequate student support and service provision. As universities open their gates to more diverse students as a result of economic changes (e.g., decreased government funding resulting in higher international student intake) and other political mandates (e.g., widening the participation in higher education), such quality is threatened as there is a greater need for support of an increasingly diverse population.

If universities and colleges are to play a role in up-skilling nations and providing the future national and international leaders, then student support services must be even more effective and efficient than ever. It is only by working together in a whole-of-university approach, however, that such an outcome can be achieved.

These pages are for HE educators and student support staff interested in (a) integrating learning and teaching strategies into courses and programs, and (b) assisting students to succeed in their HE studies, and thus ultimately give back to their communities.

In addition to the sections that follow, head over to our student resources section for more information on services and resources for students.