What is the role of an Academic Adviser and why is it important?

What is the role of an Academic Adviser and why is it important?

Academic Advising is about making learning happen.There is good research evidence of its effectiveness in enhancing the student experience.

At Oxford Brookes, we use the term “Academic Advising”. Many other institutions use “Personal Tutoring”. The following resources use the terms interchangeably. 

Why is the Academic Adviser important?

Increased interest in personal tutoring

  • Expansion of the HE sector, coupled with widening access = more students and more diversity
  • Increased competition in the sector = concern about league tables (influenced by retention)
  • Differential outcomes for under-represented groups
  • The TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework)

Adapted from Thomas, 2017

What does research say?

There is now a substantial body of research evidence that suggests that academic guidance can:

  • enhance the student experience;
  • improve the academic success of students;
  • encourage students to prepare for employment and careers beyond university;
  • promote a sense of belonging to a disciplinary community.

The research literature on academic guidance suggests the significance of the sustained relationship that Academic Advisers have with their advisees. Advisers who are proactive and meet regularly with their advisees (Kuh, 2008; Hattie, 2009) are likely to be successful in supporting students to:

  • reflect on how their studies are progressing;
  • extend their conceptions of learning, study skills, metacognition and self-critical awareness;
  • formulate and review their plans for employment and career aspirations;
  • communicate effectively with academics within their discipline.

Moreover,

  • it is the human side of education which comes first – finding friends, feeling confident and above all, feeling a part of your course of study and the institution – that is the necessary starting point for student success;
  • at the heart of student retention and success is a strong sense of belonging;
  • the academic sphere is the most important site for nurturing engagement which creates a sense of belonging. This puts inclusive teaching and learning at the heart of effective student retention and success.

Thomas (2012; 2017)

Tutors can improve student retention and success in the following ways:

  • enabling a student to develop a relationship with an academic member of staff in their discipline or programme area, and feeling more ‘connected’;
  • providing students with reassurance, guidance and feedback about their academic studies in particular, and working in partnership with professional services;
  • academic tutoring is able to contribute to student belonging in many ways but must:
    • be embedded in to the curriculum
    • be proactive (ie not optional)
    • have an holistic approach
    • be made relevant to students and valued by staff
    • be collaborative and develop relationships
    • monitor participation and follow up non-participation.

Thomas (2012; 2017)

Why have Academic Advisers?

The previous points show that there is a strong case for Academic Advising. It is important to acknowledge that the one-to-one element of the Adviser/advisee relationship makes it a cost-intensive exercise. However, these costs need balancing against the significant benefits which effective Advising can produce.

Students do experience planned disciplinary-specific academic guidance through their programmes of study, however, this form of guidance tends to be cohort-focused rather than individual student-focused. The Academic Adviser is commonly understood as complementing, rather than replacing, curriculum-based academic guidance by focusing on the holistic development of the individual student.

The Academic Advising role - functions

The literature shows us that main responsibilities of Advisors in UK HE include the following

  • Academic feedback and development 
  • Personal welfare support 
  • Information & support referral 
  • Embodiment and representative of the university 
  • Goal/target setting and monitoring of achievements 
  • Solution-focused coaching


As an Academic Adviser, you have a key role in promoting students' sense of belonging to an academic community and supporting their development as a successful learner within Brookes and beyond.

Academic guidance includes:

  • development of a student's conceptions of learning, study skills and critical self-awareness;
  • providing and encouraging supportive relations between students, and between staff and students;
  • providing a holistic perspective on a student's academic progress across the modules within their programme;
  • providing continuity when access to other staff such as module leaders changes.

In practice, you are expected to be proactive in:

  • supporting students to put together a coherent academic programme with their future in mind;
  • reviewing academic progress, including reviewing a student's understanding of feedback on assessed work;
  • discussing the overall academic performance of students, including their developing Grade Point Average and Honours Degree Classification;
  • helping students to assess how they are meeting the programme learning outcomes;
  • discussing obstacles or blocks to learning;
  • encouraging students, from the beginning of their studies, to engage with a range of developmental activities to enhance their employability;
  • providing academic references.

You should always:

  • keep records of meetings with your advisees as appropriate;
  • reflect on your own performance as an Academic Adviser.

The Academic Advising role - effectiveness

A definition of the effective academic adviser/personal tutor:

“The personal tutor is one who improves the intellectual and academic ability, and nurtures the emotional well-being of learners through individualised, holistic support.”

Stork & Walker (2015)

Other useful ways to understand the role of the Academic Adviser

 

Some ways in which mentors give support
Gravells & Wallace (2007) adapted from Clutterbuck (1985)

Four styles of helping
Gravells & Wallace (2007)

A study on effective Advising from Brookes

A study of student support at Oxford Brookes (Sharpe, Deepwell & Clarke, 2013), explored students help-seeking strategies at the University. Although now a few years old, it usefully identifies some of the characteristics shown by effective Academic Advisers, which are briefly presented here to help you benchmark your own practice. 

Effective Academic Advisers are:

  • well prepared;
  • proactive;
  • available;
  • caring;
  • student-centred;
  • self-reflective.

How can these be achieved? See what does good academic advising look like? for practical ways (provided by the study) through which each of these can be realised.