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This section offers practical advice and guidance for Academic Advisers on providing references for present or past students, for both employment and further study.
The University has an overarching procedure for the Preparation of Student References.
You must ensure that when providing references for students you meet the procedures set out in the Preparation of Student References. Here we give informal guidance on providing references for students in your capacity as Academic Adviser. It does not cover references for fellow members of staff (where other considerations apply), nor references offered in a private capacity (although the legal situation may be similar).
The following guidance outlines good practice. If you comply with the Procedures and this informal guidance, it should protect you, and the University, from legal action.
Written references The principal aims of providing a written reference are: (a) to confirm facts and (b) to provide relevant opinion.
Difficult cases You may be unsure what to say in the case where you have been asked to write a reference for a student who you know is (or was) in bad standing with the University (e.g. for disciplinary or financial reasons). The general guidance is not to mention such matters unless you believe it to be directly relevant to the duty of care that you owe to the recipient of the reference (ie. relevant to the job, course, etc. that the student has applied to). If the job or course assumes a high level of responsibility and/or personal integrity, then it may be appropriate to refer to the student's poor standing. However, before doing so you are advised to discuss the matter with the Data Protection Officer, as disclosure of such information where it is not warranted must also be avoided, as part of an Academic Adviser's duty of care to the student.
Where you are uncomfortable about providing a reference, or have significant reservations about what you can say, you are free to tell the student that you do not wish to be a referee. You must, however, be clear and transparent about your reasons for refusing.
Generally, employers are interested in a range of qualities over and above a good degree. They want to know about a candidate's motivation, personality, interests and skills such as communication, reliability, creativity and teamwork. Overall, they seek candidates who are technically competent, numerate, active social individuals who are good communicators and have the potential to take more responsibility in the future.
For academic references, it is more important to emphasise the individual's ability to research and analyse, and to point to their good performance in previous academic study. It is helpful to include how the course of study will benefit their future career plans.
For all references, it is helpful to know something in advance about the job/course the individual is applying for, and to draw on your own experiences in recruiting others for work or as potential postgraduate students.
The following simple checklist may be helpful in structuring a reference:
Below are simple references illustrating the ways in which the boxed outline above can be adapted.