'At least once a term', says NUS charter on tutorials

Academics welcome proposal but warn financial constraints may interfere, writes Rebecca Attwood

March 31, 2011

All students are entitled to a personal tutor and should meet them at least once a term, the National Union of Students said this week.

In a new charter on the issue, the union also calls for students to have the right to change their tutor, for all staff to be given full training on the role, and for published "minimum requirements" in the area.

"Every institution has a different model of personal tutoring and there is often variation in how it is delivered in different subject disciplines," the charter says. "It is important that students get a comparable experience across the whole institution."

The document argues that having good-quality personal tutors helps to prevent students dropping out - which makes additional efforts cost effective - and states that personal tutors can help students understand the feedback they receive on work.

They bring "a personalised approach" to higher education that can be lost when students are part of big departments "where (they) often feel like they are just a number", the charter says.

Paula Hixenbaugh, professor of the psychology of learning and teaching in higher education at the University of Westminster and co-editor of Personal Tutoring in Higher Education (2006), described the charter as a "fantastic" development and said she agreed with almost everything in it. "I've been arguing for a long time that the key to student success is relationships," she said.

But she feared that many institutions would struggle to meet some of the demands, such as meetings with personal tutors at least once a term.

"Across the sector, institutions are going to have some difficulty delivering this because of the financial constraints they work under," she said. "Academics would love to be able to get the hours in their timetable and the recognition professionally but, in reality, the question will be: 'How can we come as close to this as possible?'."

But Professor Hixenbaugh disagreed that it was the role of the personal tutor to help students understand feedback. "I don't think it would be productive for the personal tutor to interpret what somebody else means," she said.

Mike Laycock, co-chair of the Staff and Educational Development Association, also welcomed the charter's 10 recommendations (see box). He said that personal tutoring systems had traditionally run on the basis that students saw their tutors only if they had a problem. Instead, he argued, it should involve a structured programme of regular meetings to discuss both academic and professional progress.


NUS charter on personal tutors

• All students should be entitled to a named personal tutor;

• All students should meet their tutor at least once a term;

• Staff should be given full training on being an effective personal tutor;

• Institution-wide procedures for tutoring should be established;

• Staff and students should set mutual expectations;

• The personal tutoring system should be adaptable to students' needs;

• Personal tutoring should support both academic and personal development;

• Understanding assessment feedback should be integrated into personal tutoring;

• Personal tutoring should be recognised in staff reward and recognition schemes;

• Personal tutoring should make full use of appropriate new technologies.


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