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

What is the role of an Academic Advisor 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 Advisor 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 Advisors have with their advisees. Advisors 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.


  • 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 Advisors?

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 Advisor/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 Advisor 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 - responsibilities

The literature shows us the main responsibilities of Academic Advisors / Personal Tutors in UK HE include:

  • 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

The Academic Advising role - academic support

As an Academic Advisor, 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.

The Academic Advising role - pastoral support

The Academic Advisor will:

  • identify and monitor students who are at risk of academic attrition and/or personal wellbeing (for example where Advisee engagement in study or GPA dips, or have made repeated use of Exceptional Circumstances) and make contact, signposting appropriate support services and inviting engagement;
  • report issues that exceed the academic responsibilities and expertise of the Academic Advisor (this referral process is detailed in a subsequent section 6 of this course);
  • report to the Faculty Senior Academic Advisor with regard to their advising activity, for example sharing information on Academic Advising Tutorial attendance rates;
  • seek guidance and support from the Faculty Senior Academic Advisor when needed;
  • report issues that exceed the academic responsibilities and expertise of the Academic Advisor.

You should always:

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

The academic advising role - responsibilities at Oxford Brookes and in relation to the Student Support Coordinator (SSC) role

You will likely work In the Student Support Coordinators (SSCs) in your Faculty. Please see this information which outlines your responsibilities at Brookes in relation to the Student Support Coordinator (SSC) role.

The Academic Advising role - what the Advisee should do

The Adviser-Advisee relationship works best if it is a reciprocal one. The students you are supporting (your Advisees) should do the following in order to be supported most effectively and you may want to share these expectations with your Advisees at an early stage.  

The Academic Advisee will:

  • take personal responsibility for their academic, professional and personal development;
  • attend 1-2-1 / group Academic Advising Tutorials;
  • identify goals for the short, intermediate and long term, and steps towards achieving these;
  • monitor and critically reflect on their own academic, professional and personal progress;
  • share their successes;
  • discuss their concerns;
  • seek support when it is needed, for example by booking onto their Advisor's student drop-in hours should they need support between timetabled Tutorials.

The Academic Advising role - effectiveness

A definition of the effective academic advisor/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 Advisor

Some ways in which mentors give support: Directive, Coach, Care Taker, Challenging, Supporting, Facilitator, Counsellor, Non-directive 

Figure 1. This diagram outlines the different types of help and support you can give to your students along the continua of active to passive and supporting to challenging.  The diagram was designed to explore the role of the mentor in education, but it is also a useful one to apply to the role and functions of the Academic Advisor.

Gravells & Wallace (2007) adapted from Clutterbuck (1985)

Four styles of helping

Figure 2. This diagram was developed form the first and shows more types of support you can provide and adds the continua of active to stretching to nurturing.  Like the first, it was designed to explore the role of the mentor in education, but it is also a useful one to apply to the role and functions of the Academic Advisor.

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 Advisors, which are briefly presented here to help you benchmark your own practice. 

Effective Academic Advisors 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.