Rethinking academic and pastoral support at the University of Exeter

Jess Johnson (University of Exeter)
Nicky King (University of Exeter)
Adam Watt (University of Exeter)
Karen Kenny (University of Exeter)

Monday, April 8, 2024 2:30 PM - 3:15 PM

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Session Outline

At Exeter, we are in the early stages of piloting and scaling a collaborative and sustainable model for proactive academic and pastoral student support.

Research shows a strong correlation between proactive academic support and improved student engagement, progression and outcomes (Calabrese, Leadbitter et al. 2022), especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds or from outside the UK and is therefore crucial to driving down awarding gaps (Alves 2019, Gabi, Braddock et al. 2023). Furthermore, effective student academic support is also important in promoting student wellness, signposting to specialist services and reducing non-continuation / withdrawal rates (McFarlane 2016). As a result, universities are understandably rethinking traditional models for academic support (including tutoring) to provide more proactive and consistent academic support and utilise data ensure students’ academic success.

Our new model for student academic support is designed to be data-informed, make optimal use of digital tools and resources, and bring together academic and professional services colleagues to work collaboratively to realise improvements in student satisfaction, engagement, retention, progression and outcomes. To develop our new model for student academic support we created a cross-university task and finish group. The Group, informed by UK and international best practice and feedback from staff and students, brought together academic and professional services teams and student representatives to collaboratively design the new model for student academic support to be piloted at Exeter.

A key feature of our holistic approach is the introduction of Pastoral Mentors in departments, to act as the bridge between the department, wider university, Students’ Union and students’ Guild support services, ensuring professional and more consistent end-to-end advice and support for student enquiries. Pastoral Mentors focus on ensuring students are supported to be able to succeed academically and use student engagement data, staff referrals and student drop-ins/emails to provide high-quality proactive support for students experiencing difficulties, which impact their ability to study and be successful on their programme of study. Alongside this, we are rethinking the role of Academic Advisor (formerly Personal Tutors), developing a student engagement database and implementing digital resources and solutions to support students with their day-to-day academic enquiries and staff with effective signposting and referrals.

In this presentation we will provide an overview of our theory of change for the Student Academic Support Model at Exeter, including our collaborative approach to pilot design, delivery and evaluation, early evaluation data from staff and students and our priority next steps as we continue to evolve, scale and enhance our model for proactive academic and pastoral student support.

This session addresses the following competencies of the UKAT Professional Framework for Advising and Tutoring
R3 - Motivate, encourage, and support students to recognize their potential, meet challenges, and respect individuality
R7 - Collaborate effectively with campus services to provide support to students
P4 - Understand the implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement, and engage in on-going evaluation and development of advising and tutoring practice