Setting boundaries and referring students to other services

Setting boundaries and referring students to other services

The aforementioned institutional research, in addition to feedback from many conversations with colleagues, highlights the growing number of issues which students present with. In turn, this underlines the significance of boundary setting.

You are probably already aware of the professional boundaries you need to keep. Rather than covering all of them, here we are talking about the boundaries most relevant when providing a high level of individual, holistic support. 

As an Academic Advisor, you will be nurturing individual students and you may have involvement in supporting students with their emotional wellbeing. Whilst this can be what makes you effective, it does come with a ‘health warning’. It opens you up to the danger of becoming too close to the issues and, by implication, at times the students themselves. Also, it may feel that your role is crossing over into the realms of the counsellor or social worker. The ‘health warning’ is for both sides, for the good and protection of both the students and yourself. It is important to know when your support has reached its limit and the student needs to go to others with a particular role or expertise.

Boundary types 

Boundaries can be best understood by grouping them into different types such as expertise, time and behavioural. Please see this document on boundary types which gives more information along with examples.

Referring students to other services

Process for referral

You should follow these guidelines for referring students to other services. 

Please report issues that exceed your responsibilities and expertise to other services.

Regarding confidentiality, under GDPR regulations, we need to maintain the confidentiality of a student. There can be exceptions to this in emergency situations, where we have an obligation to act. 

The key service for referral is Inclusive Support. You, or your students can use the following regularly monitored email address and they will ensure it reaches the right place -  

Further information on referral

Consider referring if you:

  • can identify a service that has specific expertise to support your advisee;
  • believe that you have gone as far as you can with the student;
  • sense there is a conflict between your role as an Academic Advisor and your teaching role;
  • feel out of your depth with the issues the student is bringing to you.

In many Faculties, the Student Support Coordinators (SSCs) are used for referral (and they have training in some of these areas).  Find out more about the SSCs in your Faculty and how to contact them on the Student Support Coordinator webpages, or use this SSC contact form to get in touch. The Academic Guidance Statement outlines (to students) the role of Academic Advisor and SSC.  There is an updated Student Support Coordinator (SSC) contact form.

You should try to clarify, as much as possible, what the student wants or needs. Questions you may need to ask them, or yourself include:

  • does the advisee need help with a practical problem, e.g. accommodation, health care, finance, study skills, looking for work?
  • do they need help with a personal difficulty, e.g. bereavement, relationship problems, mental health concerns?
  • are there Exceptional circumstances?

However, you may not always be able to pinpoint the issue. Using will ensure it reaches the right place. 

Inclusive Support Service - 

However, if you do want a specific service:

For procedures related to students’ study & behaviour (see below examples), please use the Student Investigation & Resolution Team (SIRT) via this email or in person.  

  • A student wants to challenge an examination committee decision, e.g. a module mark or course withdrawal,
  • A student wants to make a complaint about a service, or raise issues about another student's behaviour 
  • If a module leader suspects a student of cheating, e.g. plagiarism the student will be referred to SIRT to investigate. If your academic advisee asks you about a case, refer them to the paperwork they will have received, or directly to SIRT. 

Exceptional circumstances

  • For students who are experiencing circumstances that are affecting their ability to study or undertake assessment. 
  • Students can apply for extensions or the opportunity to defer assessments. 
  • This process is also managed by SIRT, using the email account   

If you have been working with an advisee for some time, you may need to reduce their dependancy and explain why you are suggesting that they seek help elsewhere, or giving them techniques to help them towards a greater level of autonomy.  It is important to be clear if you are going to continue to offer support, and what the limitations of that support may be.

Do bear in mind issues of confidentiality, use of email, and the Data Protection Act when making or discussing a referral.

Wellbeing offers useful advice on what to do if you are concerned about a student, or feel that they may be at risk.

If a student is subject to any type of disciplinary procedure or needs to know how to get help for these issues, they should be referred to the Brookes Union Advice Service for independent advice.

Looking after yourself

Beware the ‘dizzying feeling’ (everything is of relevance to you and the many roles you have to play).

Ways to cope with include this:

  • respect boundaries – e.g. expertise; time;
  • use structured offloading (‘supervision’).

The university offers support for staff here - Staff Wellbeing