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Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Learning Analytics as a tool for supporting student wellbeing – The role of HE Institutions

By Samantha Ahern, on 20 November 2017

Byrd and Mckinney (Byrd and Mckinney, 2012) found that the combined effects of both individual and institutional level measures were associated with student mental health, accounting for 49% of the variance in mental health after controlling for background and demographic characteristics.  The IPPR state that their findings(“not-by-degrees-summary-sept-2017-1-.pdf”, n.d.) suggest that a majority of HEIs should take measures to ensure that the nature of course content and delivery does not result in academic rigour being sought at the expense of students’ mental health and wellbeing.

Social problem solving, coping, was identified as a more useful indicator of suicide potential than hopelessness, they therefore note that the concept of coping, especially in relation to students’ adjustment to university life, deserves further attention.

In addition, O’Keefe(O’keeffe, 2013) states that student wellbeing can be seriously compromised if the university is unable to create a caring environment, develop a sense of belonging among students and provide adequate campus based counselling support.

The Huffington Post blog post ‘What Happened to Pastoral Care?’(“What Happened to Pastoral Care? | HuffPost UK”, n.d.) states that the term ‘pastoral care’ has been missing from many of the discussions on mental health in higher education, and asks if the loss of the term ‘pastoral care’ reflects that we no longer tend to hold universities responsible for student welfare?

The Universities UK Student mental wellbeing in higher education Good practice guide(Universities, 2015) states that there has been a very significant growth in the specialist support and guidance services provided for students in higher education.  This includes supported provided within faculties and teaching departments including personal tutoring and other pastoral systems.

With respect to duty of care, institutions have a general duty of care at common law to deliver their services to the standard of the ordinarily competent institution; and, in carrying out their services and functions as institutions, to act reasonably to protect the health, safety and welfare of their students.

The QAA report What students think of their higher education (“What-Students-Think-of-Their-Higher-Education.pdf”, n.d.) identifies that positive and supportive relationships with a personal tutor was essential to successful learners. However, inconsistencies in students’ experiences continued to be problematic with student comments including:

The personal tutor organisation has been really poor. After four years at […] I am now

on my seventh personal tutor, who doesn’t know anything about me and I don’t feel

very supported in my final (and very stressful!) year. I’m not very happy at the idea of

this person writing a reference for me for a future job as they will only have the basic

information that is on my student record.’

 Suggested improvements included greater and easier access to personal tutors through scheduled tutorials and that tutors should be contactable via email.

 A response to the inconsistencies in the approach to student advising and tutoring has been the establishment of UKAT, the UK Advising and Tutoring group. UKAT believes that personal tutoring and academic advising have not been given the attention they deserve in UK institutions and aims to redress this situation, offering professional development and training in this vital area, providing a forum for the exchange of ideas and working to ensure that tutors and advisers receive the respect they deserve (“About Us”, n.d.).


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