What’s going on?

paddy autumn update

At the beginning of term I sent out an update on what’s new and upcoming to Heads of School, SDTLs, SDATs, TLDs, other Heads of Function, the RUSU Officers and our student services business partners. Having spent a few hours drawing all of this together I think this makes for a really impressive account which is a testament to all of your hard work, energy and commitment. I can see the Student Services Vision that we developed last year really coming to life in all of this activity. It shows us for the dynamic and progressive service that I believe we are and I am really proud of us!

In reality I do know we are actually doing far more than (even) all of the things below, but there is only so much I can put in one email so I focussed on where we have made changes that will be visible outside Student Services. I hope you will be as impressed with the list below as I am.”


  • Careers and Placements fair (16 October) We’re running our biggest fair earlier this year to give students more time to prepare for autumn recruitment. We look forward to welcoming 92 companies and hopefully 1,500 students. In total there will be an amazing nine careers fairs run in the University this autumn. More about all nine here.
  • Visa application process (14 – 24 October) – Home Office (UKVI) have introduced a new visa application process from 2019/20 generating sector wide concern as to the availability of mandatory appointments, travel costs and distances for students to access appointments and resultant disruption to their studies at the start of term. We have been concerned that this would have a particularly negative affect on our c. 400 pre-sessional students. However, we have been able to secure the UKVI’s delivery partner Sopra Steria to provide an on campus ‘pop-up’ service to deliver the appointments from Monday 14 – 24 October. They will be based in the library and offering around 450 appointments. Our International Advisory & Home Office Compliance team are providing advice and guidance to students throughout their visa application process and will be with the students as they work through their final stages of their application with the UKVI.
  • Alcohol Awareness Week (11-Nov) – We will be liaising with RUSU, MCE, RBC and others to deliver a programme of activities around alcohol awareness and responsible drinking.
  • Home Office Audit (3rd – 5th Dec) – In order to be able to recruit international students the University holds a Tier 4 sponsor license from the Home Office. The Home Office audit will assess the robustness and accuracy of our processes around recording and monitoring international students. The audit will last up to three days during which the auditors will talk to staff with go through our records to assure themselves that we are adhering to Home Office regulations and expectations.


Below are a number of new ventures and improvements. Many are driven by our strategy to be more pro-active in reaching out to students rather than waiting for them to knock on our door.

  • Over the summer we launched our new financial support platform Blackbullion which many students have already engaged with. Blackbullion provides a wide variety of advice and guidance re managing your finances, including: Get money ready for Uni, budgeting, tax/pensions, student loans and guidance for International students on financial matters in the UK.
  • Blackbullion is part of the team’s new approach to becoming a more proactive service and by Christmas 2019 will have a new range of advisory leaflets tackling key issues for students around debt, budgeting, money and health etc. and a ‘Food Essentials cupboard’ aimed to provide temporary support over a period of 2-3 days while others such as RUSU or the UoR Chaplaincy secure a more comprehensive support package for example via Reading Food Bank.
  • Later this term we will pilot our one-to-one Money Health Check Service where the Student Financial Support Team will review individual students’ finances with them and provide tailored advice about what they need to pro-actively do to ensure their finances stay healthy.
  • In July 2019 more than 500 students from across the University took part in our inaugural Career Smart online course, aimed at preparing final year students for graduate recruitment over the duration of summer.  Due to overwhelming positive student feedback, we have decided to rerun the course in the autumn term. Career Smart will relaunch in Week 3 (week commencing Monday 14th October) and run until the end of Week 6. The course is aimed at undergraduate finalists graduating in summer 2020, and you can read more about Career Smart here. A big thank you to all academic colleagues who promoted the course!
  • Careers 24/7. We have just launched this Blackboard site through which students, and staff, can access materials for the central Careers workshops delivered throughout the year, as well as our online application and assessment tools package. Students and staff can self-enrol here: bit.ly/UoRCareers247 This initiative is intended to make our Career learning materials more inclusive and accessible, and, in line with academic schools, workshop materials will be available a minimum of 48 hours before delivery.
  • We are pro-actively responding to studentscareer interests. We have asked returning students about the employment sectors they are interested in and we will use this to inform a series of ‘themed weeks’ of activity across the year. Last year these included: Social Impact Week, Green Careers Week, Research Careers Week, Marketing, Media and Communications Week, Health & Science Careers Week and Creative Arts and Heritage Week.
  • Our Student Advisory Board for Careers which we piloted last year will become part of business as usual ensuring that we align our Careers and Employability provision to what students want/need/expect.
  • Life Tools – has had an image change, expanded and diversified the sessions run and is increasingly being run in conjunction with specific schools and even within the curriculum. Contact m.a.penabizama@reading.ac.uk


We are always working to improve the effectiveness of the support provided to students either directly through what our teams do or by supporting colleagues elsewhere to support students.

  1. On-line registration for Counselling & Wellbeing – students can now register online  . Last year all students were seen for an initial assessment within about two weeks of registering. This allows risk to be assessed and those in the high risk category are either immediately referred for urgent NHS intervention or seen very quickly by us. At the point of assessment all students are provided with some guidance while they await their appointment.
  2. Suicide Prevention – following the work done early last year to provide simple guidance to staff on what to do if they had a suicide concern about a student, we have undertaken an audit of our prevention, intervention and postvention approaches. This revealed a gap in the guidance that we provide directly for students. We have now developed a suicide awareness student facing resource entitled ‘Feeling hopeless, trapped or suicidal’  located on our ‘Look After Yourself at university’ page. Our Head of Student Wellbeing is also working with the Pan Berkshire Suicide Prevention Group to inform our work.
  3. Access to information on students’ disabilities. The Disability Advisory team have recently circulated via the Disability Reps some newly drafted guidance on the RISIS Disability reports for module convenors which explain how to generate the reports and how to interpret the contents. Please contact your Disability Rep if you have not received this.
  4. Disability Support Guidance – The Disability Advisory team are working on a new set of guidance for applicants/students that identify what support/reasonable adjustments they can expect in relation to specific disabilities. It will cover not only the academic experience but also the student life experience etc. This will provide greater clarity of expectation for both students and staff.
  5. The Exams & Graduation team are now co-located within the JJT Support Centre (previously at London Road). Students can access the team via the Support Centre front desk as appropriate re queries.
  6. Attendance Management – Championed by Student Services with the aim to support welfare and progression of our students the University is funding a project to scope and implement an attendance management system at the University. We will be carrying out a proof of concept learning exercise with SPEIR, HBS and Construction Management later this term.
  7. Student feedback card – We will be piloting a new ‘student feedback’ card within the Support Centres during 2019-20.  The aim of this is to enable us to gather ‘live’ information about our services to enable us to focus on making immediate improvements and responding in an agile manner
  8. Student Life blogs, podcasts and video – we are increasing our focus on using more ‘student voice’ in our advice and guidance for students. We have a team of students who are writing for our Student Life Blog and 2019/20 will see a pilot in the use of student created podcasts.
  9. Accessibility of RISIS – The SIS team will be working on a major project to update the design of the RISIS portal content for staff and students, in order to meet the new guidelines on accessibility and to ensure that content and navigation are optimised for mobile and tablet devices.  This involves a revised design/look for online application forms, online booking screens, online enrolment, and the staff and student portals – which includes the tutor card, admin hub and admissions hub.
  10. Under 18s – We have enrolled around 100 under 18 year olds. This is fairly consistent year on year. The University has recognised that it is important for more staff to be cognisant of the presence of under 18s, particularly as many are international students. We have therefore circulated to SDATs the list of these students in each school with a request to make a specific effort to touch base with these students. The Student Welfare team has also made specific contact with each of these students to ensure they are aware of the avenues for support. Hall Wardens have also explicitly sought them out to introduce themselves.
  11. Student Progress Dashboard. The SIS Team have worked tirelessly over the summer to iron out the final bugs with the dashboard in order that staff are able to see and understand it before we switch into the new academic year marks data. In support of the launch of this important new tool for students, Student Support Co-ordinators have all been briefed on the Dashboard and will be able to answer students questions as it begins to populate with marks later this term. The programme admin teams are keenly aware of the importance of marks being transferred to appear on the dashboard as soon as possible.
  12. Drugs and Alcohol Action Partnership (DAAP). Several key staff in Student Services are involved in the work of the DAAP group which I am leading with a wide range of colleagues from across the University. We have reviewed our response to drug and alcohol issues and identified several areas for improvement including:  a new awareness campaign to be launched to students in November with the theme of ‘Be a Mate’; developing more regular and visible alcohol free social activities across the year; working with the new drugs and alcohol addiction service in Reading to develop a drug & alcohol awareness course to embed as part of the disciplinary process; as well as training a network of students to be able to have difficult peer-to-peer conversations about drug and alcohol abuse behaviour. The work has also been able to benefit from the considerable academic expertise provided by Ranjita Dhital (Pharmacy) and we hope to incorporate some student research projects.


  1. New Student Discipline policy – Colleagues in Academic Governance have produced a new and comprehensive procedure, which emphasises a firm but fair approach to student discipline. It includes an explicit statement of the regulations for student conduct which is often helpful to review if you consider a student is behaving unreasonably.
  2. Student death policy and procedure – a reminder of the process to follow in the sad event of a student death. This policy is written as broad guidance to cover a wide range of circumstances. Advice can be sought directly from me p.e.woodman@reading.ac.uk if you have any questions on this.


With best wishes for the term ahead


Dr Patricia (Paddy) Woodman, PFHEA, NTF

Director of Student Services, University of Reading

Student Success & Engagement |Student Wellbeing Services | Careers | T&L Operations & Advice | Student Information Systems


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