Collaboration between academics and support professionals
Previous work has shown that when gaps exist between academic staff and student services, student risk falling into those gaps (1). As the University Mental Health Charter makes clear, “inconsistent advice, improper, ineffective or non-existent signposting and promises made by one part of the institution that cannot be fulfilled by another, can have negative impacts on student mental health and belief that the university can provide the support they need. Alternatively, when different teams are able to collaborate and work well together, support to students improves and is more effective.” (2)
Academics and support staff therefore need to work together to provide cohesive, appropriate responses and interventions for students. This is not to ignore the differences in roles and responsibilities and the implications of these differences (3). There are, however, areas in which academic and support professionals can collaborate to the greater benefit of students. Closer collaboration can also help academic staff maintain their boundaries by enabling more effective signposting and increasing student willingness to accept support from appropriately qualified staff.
Unfortunately, traditional divisions within universities mean academic and student support staff can exist in different worlds with limited interaction. This can give rise to misunderstanding and incoherence for students. Universities can address this by creating opportunities to bring academic and support staff together. There are a number of examples of this in practice that include:
- involving support staff in curriculum development and design,
- academic and support staff working together to co-create interventions and responses to better support student wellbeing,
- enabling support staff to deliver or co-deliver workshops, as part of the curriculum, on student self-management, wellbeing and learning that are tailored to the subject area through collaboration between academics and support staff, and
- developing opportunities for staff on both sides to deliver training to each other to increase knowledge of student wellbeing on one side and academic learning and life on the other.
These practices can help to create better relationships between academics and support professionals, improve understanding and thus improve the responses, interventions and advice that students receive. A more cohesive relationship also reduces the possibility that at risk students will slip through the net.
- When there are gaps between academics and student services, students can fall into those gaps.
- Appropriate boundaries must be maintained between student services and academics but within these boundaries there are opportunities for more cohesive, collaborative relationships.
- When both sides understand and trust each other students are more likely to receive cohesive support, interventions and responses.
- This can help academic staff to maintain their own appropriate boundaries and thereby protect their own wellbeing.
- Consider how staff can provide training and development to each other.
- Look for natural opportunities for academics and support staff to co-create together – it may help to bring them together to map out their respective responsibilities and roles and how they can interact.
- Create easy methods of communication between academics and student services.
Hughes G, Panjwani M, Tulcidas P, Byrom N. Student mental health: The role and responsibilities of academics. Oxford: Student Minds. 2018.
Hughes G, Spanner L. The university mental health charter. Leeds: Student Minds. 2019.
Hughes G. The challenge of student mental well-being: reconnecting students services with the academic universe. In: Padró FF, Kek M, Huijser H, editors. Student Support Services. University Development and Administration. Singapore: Springer; 2021. Available from: doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-3364-4_6-1