Here, she talks about her work as co-chair of the ‘Personalised Academic Global Excellence Student Support’ (PAGESS) working group, alongside Dr Clare Goudy, Director of Education Planning at the Office of the Vice-Provost Education & Student Affairs (OVPESA).
The group was set up with the aim of increasing integrated academic language skills support for students across UCL.
What existing support is there for UCL students looking for help with academic writing?
At the moment, the provision of academic communication support is spread across the university: the Faculty of Arts & Humanities has pioneered the set-up of the ‘Writing Lab’, primarily a peer-support service; the Centre for Languages & International Education runs several courses for students, and also supports on-programme teaching by academic staff in a number of faculties. The Institute of Education has the best-developed provision, with its own Academic Writing Centre, and there is also support at the Students’ Union.
So, although excellent, writing support at UCL is found in pockets, with some faculties extremely well-served and others with limited support for teaching staff and students.
Through close analysis of the provision, as well as consultation with academic staff, we identified that the present set-up wasn’t sufficient to meet demand. Comparative analysis of other Russell Group universities also showed that UCL’s provision was lower than the standard across the sector.
And this led to setting up the ‘PAGESS’ working group…
Yes – through our institutional surveys, we’ve been aware that student requests for academic writing support have been increasing over time, particularly from international students, but also from home and EU students too.
The 2016-21 Education Strategy identifies this as a key area of development for UCL, and the proposed expansion of our capacity in this area also dovetailed with the Global Engagement Strategy, with its strategic aim of ‘cultivating our global outlook to offer our students the best possible preparation for global lives and careers’.
The working group includes representatives from across UCL. What are the benefits of cross-departmental working?
Our intention is to develop a service that works for all faculties at UCL, and so cross-departmental working has been vital to the success of the project. We brought together representatives from all existing academic communication support services, from Library Services and from a number of faculties.
We also consulted with faculty tutors and used existing survey data to corroborate our working assumptions. One of the strengths of the project has been the collaboration between OVPESA and GEO. We’ve both enjoyed working together very much, and have brought different perspectives to bear, with Clare helping me to understand the complexity of policy-making and institutional projects, and me helping Clare to understand the potential impact on departments and the intricacies of the lives of academics and the pressures they are facing.
Given our existing dispersed provision, this has been a complex project with many different interests to reconcile – but having an excellent collaborative relationship has allowed us to make progress with good humour!
What support will the new Academic Communications Support Centre provide?
The support centre will first provide initial ‘triage’ support to students, helping them to identify the problem with communication that they need help with. They’ll then be directed to one of a number of options for developing their ability to communicate in an academic context.
The centre will offer programmes and workshops to students, as well as supporting academic staff in departments to integrate academic writing support into their existing programmes. Under the centre umbrella, the Writing Lab will expand its peer-support provision across all faculties, and we will also be developing the online resources that students can access without a referral.
What are next steps for the project?
We’re currently advertising for a Director of the Centre for Academic Communication Support (a working title, to be reviewed once the director is in post).
We’re hoping that they will be able to start in September to develop and start to implement the business plan, so that we can start to increase our provision in this area from the 18-19 academic session. We’ll keep faculty and department staff updated on our progress through our regular GEO and OVPESA communications.