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Advising and challenging

Advising and challenging

Prestigious American prize for Robert Pans

MAASTRICHT. The discipline of student adviser is more than just “providing first aid” these days. It is also about 21st-century skills, employability and reflection on the study programme, career and oneself. Last week, the Maastricht student advisers organised a seminar on modern student advising. 

In the past, the job of student adviser consisted mainly of being “a walking prospectus and an ambulatory book of exam regulations,” says Robert Pans, head of student advising and academic counselling at SBE. They solved the problems of students who were too late enrolling, who suffered from homesickness, or didn’t meet graduation requirements. That is still the case, but to a much lesser extent.

These days, much more is required of students, says Oscar van den Wijngaard, co-ordinator of academic advising at University College: “You used to be able to take as long as you liked to complete a study, today students should preferably finish in four years. There is hardly any room for wrong decisions, while the curriculum provides more choices than ever before.” Think of choosing a major, traineeships abroad, master’s, jobs.

The pressure to make the right choice is also greater than ever before, says Pans. “You have to be successful. This can prevent students from taking the time to sit back and think. It’s paralysing. I see a lot of students who are afraid and uncertain of making the wrong decisions.”

Student advisers work on the basis of the ‘whole person learning’ principle and challenge students to reflect about themselves, their studies, and their careers, with the aim of creating a personal profile. “Even the student who has everything worked out, will benefit from that,” says Van den Wijngaard. “If only to have their choices confirmed. The big question is always: what do I want?”

Both emphasise that there is already a great deal of coaching in the curriculum. At the Maastricht seminar, the main theme of which was ‘advising towards employability’, Van den Wijngaard presented a list of 250 UM activities in the field of academic advising. He did so in his role of chairman of the UM platform for study advice SUMa.

“At the moment it is often done at random,” says Pans. “It would be great if in the future the UM were to draw up a profile of the student that they want to deliver. And that we focus all our activities to accomplish this.”

In the past few years, employability has taken an increasingly prominent place, also in Maastricht. It is more than a set of skills, says Van den Wijngaard. It is a mix of expertise, competences, relevant experiences, and a tremendous dose of self-confidence. “Students need to be aware of the coherence between all those parts, also between studying and private life. For example, you can use the competencies that you develop as a football trainer in your preparation for the labour market. It can all contribute towards mapping out your own path.”

In doing so, do student advisers not clash with Career Services? Not directly, says Pans. “Career Services provides ‘quick career advice’ and workshops about general matters such as job interviews, LinkedIn. The only overlap is in the fact that they also provide counselling. We could streamline this more.”

Van den Wijngaard: “The faculty seems to me to be a more logical place for counselling, especially because we adopt a whole-person approach there, and have a better idea of the coherence between the students and their studies.”

Oeuvre Prize

Robert Pans recently received a prestigious prize from NACADA, the leading American organisation for student advisers. The 'Outstanding Academic Advising Adminitrator' is a kind of oeuvre prize for his efforts at SBE (for 28 years already) and at the Landelijke Vereniging voor Studieadviseurs (National Association of Student Advisers), where he was a member of the board. The award will be presented to him in October, in Las Vegas.

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