Academic difficulties

ADMINISTRATION   LEARNING & TEACHING   SUPPORT
Student appeals          Difficulties in your UoS          Student and faculty programs
        Helping staff support students


Dealing with academic difficulties in your unit of study

There are several methods that you can use to support and keep abreast of your students’ progress in the unit of study (UoS), and a number of resources available within the University that you can recommend to students.

  • A cornerstone of first year students’ progress in their degree is the development of good foundational skills such as academic writing and research skills, independent learning and critical thinking. For a full discussion of these academic skills and how to foster them in first year students, as well as the resources available across the University, see our section on Academic skills development.
  • Keep an eye out for students who are less engaged or less well organised and consider positive ways to engage them. This will be more difficult in larger classes, so encourage your tutors to watch for students who may not be participating in the tutorial tasks, or not attending regularly, and make efforts to find out if they are having any problems. Sometimes you will find that a student may not recognise that they need to ask for help, or will not ask for help soon enough. Effectively monitoring a student’s progress and offering support and advice can help overcome this issue.
  • Establish ways to assess your students’ progress in your unit well before their major assessment tasks are due. Early on in the semester make sure they understand your course content and are developing the academic skills that are essential to success in your discipline area. For example, in week four you could use short quizzes in class or via eLearning that target specific understandings or skill sets.
  • Student Affairs provides Staying on Track information sessions in the early weeks of every semester. Any student who is experiencing difficulties can attend these sessions to learn about the wide range of support that is available to them within the University.
  • The Student Representative Council (SRC) has caseworkers who are there to help students who are experiencing academic or life challenges. This is especially relevant to students who have been asked to Show Cause, or need to appeal an exclusion from a degree. However, remember that SRC help is available to any student who needs advice or support.
Academic difficulties

Student and faculty programs

Both the University of Sydney Union (USU) and many faculties have systems in place to either assist students with difficulties or to pre-empt such situations by providing support networks and resources. Just a few examples are given below. Make sure to find out about any similar programs in your own faculty.

  • Unimates offers an opportunity for students to meet other students from diverse language and cultural backgrounds and make new friends. This can be very supportive to first year students, and help them enormously in adjusting to university. The program is run by students and consists of weekly 'coffee and cake' social meetings, as well as regular social activities.
  • Arts on Track is related to the University’s Staying on Track program and provides Faculty support to Arts and Social Sciences students not meeting their progression requirements.
  • The Business School offers Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS), which are facilitated by student peers to provide optional study support for all students across most core first year units of study.
  • As part of its transition program the Faculty of Science organises Science Link-up and Mentoring (SLAM) lunches, where new students can meet senior students in an informal mentoring situation.

Helping staff support students with difficulties

Academic difficulties can be both the result and the source of many other life problems, and students who are experiencing challenges academically will often also be experiencing high levels of stress.

Check the information for staff provided by Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to find out about your role in supporting and referring students who may be having trouble coping.

Learning Solutions offers a workshop on Dealing with Students in Distress that aims to provide staff with options and resources for dealing with situations such as student stress associated with academic difficulties.

In-faculty programs can also be organised. One example comes from the Faculty of Veterinary Science, where academic staff had reported an increase in the number of students suffering from anxiety and stress, particularly around the time of assessment. Academic staff felt ill equipped to deal with students in a distressed state and not able to offer the correct support or advice at the time required by students.

  • Following discussions with Counselling and Psychological Services, the Faculty has chosen to deliver a staff development activity on dealing with students in distress within a Learning and Teaching Workshop.
  • The workshop aims to provide staff with the tools to deal with students empathically and direct them to appropriate support services within the University.

Student appeals against academic decisions

All students have the right to appeal against an academic decision that relates to them. As coordinator, you are responsible to respond to appeals from students in your UoS. Make sure you follow the processes outlined in the Academic Board Resolution on Student Appeals Against Academic Decisions, as well as any further processes required by your faculty.

A student may appeal to the Student Appeals Board if they are not satisfied with the outcome of their appeal at the UoS or faculty level, on the grounds that ‘due academic process has not been observed by the relevant faculty in making the academic decision’. For more information, see the Student Affairs page on academic appeals and the SRC HELP pamphlets related to appeals.