More funding must go into student services if institutions are to retain the students they attract to meet government targets, according to vice-chancellor of Greenwich University Rick Trainor.
Professor Trainor chaired the recent Universities UK and Standing Conference of Principals project on student services. He told the annual Student Wellbeing Conference, hosted by Glasgow and Strathclyde universities, that institutions increasingly understood the importance of student services in supporting non-traditional entrants who were in greater danger of dropping out.
"The difficulty has been that there hasn't been enough money allocated to supporting students at risk," he said. The government must ensure sufficient funds to cover the costs of meeting widening participation targets, with the higher education funding councils ensuring that these adequately reflected the actual costs incurred in attracting and retaining non-traditional students.
Professor Trainor said the report had highlighted the importance of integrating academic support with other forms of student support. If a student was struggling academically and in debt, the two could be related.
The report also recommended a "one-stop shop" for all student support.
"There seemed to be a problem that many students were deterred from coming forward for counselling because they had to go to a specific counselling place. The tactic that seemed to be better was (having) one place to go whether you were seeking counselling or checking your fees had been paid," Professor Trainor said.
Stuart MacQuarrie, Glasgow University's chaplain, told the conference that chaplaincies were an underrated and underused support service. There was increasing financial pressure on students, but there was also "the more sinister pressure" to appear successful.
"The whole point of being at university is that you struggle. It's a challenge; you're being tested on your thought processes," he said. "But when people feel that because they have doubts they're inadequate that can be quite oppressive. The chaplaincy is able to say to people: 'It's OK, it's a perfectly natural part of human life and development.'"