This article is more than 1 year old

Our duty of care must manifest when it matters most

What sort of support should be offered when students drop out of university? Stephen Eccles shoots and scores
This article is more than 1 year old

Stephen Eccles is an Academic Associate at Nottingham Trent University

As the World Cup concluded towards the end of December, it provided much food for thought over the Christmas break.

Many of us probably took the time to reflect on the controversy, excitement and ultimately, whatever disappointments we may or may not have experienced.

However, what also emerged for me was an opportunity for higher education to take this reflection further and make meaningful change.

Not every journey is the same

Millions of children will have watched the games and become inspired to join a football academy, with the hope of becoming a professional footballer.

However, we know that not every aspiring player reaches their dream and many are often released causing despair. Equally, not every student who embarks on the journey to study at university achieves a degree. There are plenty of students that drop out and feel like a failure as a result of doing so.

The similarities continue, as when individuals are trying to process what being released or dropping out actually means, they’re being told to “clear out your locker” or that “access to your student email will soon expire”.

Essentially, once this ball gets rolling, this idea of Duty of Care becomes non-existent in a lot of cases, and these individuals just have to fend for themselves.

That said, as the saying goes “there is a game of two halves” and for football at least, times are beginning to change.

Doing the right thing

Recently, Crystal Palace became the first football club in the country to offer a formal three year after care programme to individuals are who released.

It was designed to help them cope with the aftermath of this experience, as it is known how traumatic it can be.

Support is provided to help players find a new club to play for or change career by getting back into education, underpinned by the rationale that it is the right thing to do.

Steve Parish – the Chair of Crystal Palace FC – told their website:

We have a duty and moral obligation to nurture and guide all the 200+ players within our care. We recognise that when an older Academy player is released, it may feel like the end of the world for that young man and we must do our utmost to offer support to affected players through that process and guide them with the next stage of their journey.”

Catering for unplanned transitions?

The words echo what is typically said at every Open Day around the country. Universities want to help students with the next stage of their journey, but as the University Mental Health Charter highlights, the journey is different for each student. So perhaps this should be reflected in the support that is offered.

Specifically, the charter reminds us that students may experience unplanned transitions such as a leave of absence. It draws on research that highlights the importance of ongoing contact between the student and university through such events.

The overall message is that a continued relationship is seen to help the students manage these difficult experiences and be able to return to the university to complete their studies.

So if it is known that support helps students to get back on their feet, why can’t the same be done for when students have got to the stage of dropping out of university? Especially given the amount of money and time that they have invested in deciding to enter HE.

Aftercare when it matters most

An aftercare programme for those that drop out of university could be the life raft they need. It could be developed to help students cope with the feelings of failure, both those within or externally, whether that be from family, friends or society in general.

It could also help students realise that although university isn’t right for them at this moment, the door is not closed. Instead, they may return to university in the future to continue the same course, or choose something different to study.

Equally, it may help them understand that university is not for them, but they can explore the possibilities of other careers and know that it’s ok.

The bottom line is that this is about doing the right thing. This is about helping to support students who have probably made the biggest investment in their life to not feel like their world is coming crashing down.

Much like how a football academy inspires hope for greater things as does deciding to study at HE, we need to be mindful of what is most important.

At the end of the day, success is about helping these individuals to decide the right path for them.

Supporting students in these moments of unexpected transitions can facilitate a process of, not just finding the right path, but helping them to take their first steps on their new journey.

If helping students to reach their full potential is the underpinning philosophy of university, then surely we can stand by this when it matters most.

3 responses to “Our duty of care must manifest when it matters most

  1. Thank you for this proposal, which seems good in principle.

    I would like ideas about what an aftercare program for those who discontinue university would comprise and how it may be organised. Might one allocate discontinued students to an advisor; might the university establish relations with further education colleges to offer smooth transitions to appropriate further education programs?

    1. Hi Gavin. Many thanks for your comment. I’m aiming to write another article in the next month or so that focuses a bit more on the detail and provides further ideas about what this could look like. For now, I’m very aware that each unviersity faces its own challenges with workloading for staff and so this type of programme might differ depending on the resources a institution has available in the current climate. That said, like you said, establishing links with further education colleges could be one way to approach this transition, which may also lead to other useful conversations such as those surrounding mental health. Equally another idea may include support from alumni of a unviersity, who also decided to drop out of unviersity but returned years later. This could help illustrate that our career journeys may take a variety of paths, but in the end we find the path that is best for us. Overall, I think there are plenty of ideas that can be discussed to help support these students when it matters most. Once again, many thanks for your comment Gavin.

  2. This is a thought-provoking piece Stephen. How interesting that Crystal Palace have led the way on after care programmes for those young footballers who don’t get signed up. It must be such a heart-breaking time for them. The duty of care issue both within and beyond university study is a challenging one. I like your ideas and hope you will be able to draw further on your research findings to push them forwards.

Leave a Reply