The University of Derby is committed to implementing a new system of Personal Academic Tutoring for all undergraduate students . This approach recognises the value to students in having allocated time to engage with an academic member of staff on an individual basis, to discuss their academic progress, their university experience and their professional aspirations.
Personal academic tutoring offers academic staff the opportunity to work with students on an individual level in order to foster academic challenge and to ensure that students feel stretched but confident to achieve their academic/professional goals. Personal academic tutorials are the ideal environment for the student experience to be felt in an individualised way, with uniquely tailored opportunities to encourage transformational learning.
This policy outlines the purpose, principles and requirements of the University of Derby approach to Personal Academic Tutoring (2018-2021). This approach is designed to support student retention, progression and graduate employability through a model that advocates the co-construction of academic and professional goals .
The Derby Approach to Personal Academic Tutoring
The Student Experience Framework (2017-2020) advocates proactive engagement between academic staff and students through the personal academic tutoring system in order that students are able to realise success and articulate their academic ambition, allowing them to 'be distinct'. A clearly defined personal academic tutoring scheme is integral to successful student learning; empowering students to accept and take on challenge, to engage in their university experience and to graduate with a clear understanding of how to articulate what it is about their personal university experience that makes them distinct.
The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework, under the assessment measures for the Learning Environment: Personalised Learning (LE3) requires that "Students’ academic experiences are tailored to the individual, maximising rates of retention, attainment and progression" (Department for Education, 2017:25). It is our aim to provide this level of excellence through Personal Academic Tutoring to engage students in the intellectual pursuit of their discipline as well as to challenge and motivate them to succeed beyond their own expectations in both their academic and professional outcomes.
Groves & Burden (2017:np) identify the reported benefits of personal academic tutoring as: "development in confidence, promotion of student voice and engagement, a growing sense of belonging, as well as an increase in student retention, improved academic performance and employability". Whilst these benefits are associated with a positive tutoring experience, research suggests that a poor tutoring experience can have a detrimental impact on students’ engagement with the institution (Owen, 2002; Dobinson-Harrington, 2006; Yale, 2017). The importance of 'getting it right' in personal academic tutoring is therefore paramount to the student experience and requires clear expectations of both the student and staff role in this relationship - this must be clearly communicated to both parties.
The first key change is signified by the change in title from ‘Personal Tutor’ to ‘Personal Academic Tutor’ (PAT). This change reflects the ethos in which the tutor/student relationship should be framed; one of empowering students to take ownership of their learning. The name change acknowledges that the personal academic tutor is often the person who a student will feel most comfortable approaching for advice and guidance but that the core component of this role is academic rather than pastoral. In colleges where the professional aspect of the students’ role forms part of their identity as a Derby student, the title ‘personal and professional academic tutor’ (PPAT) can be employed.
All personal academic tutors are required to undertake training that will equip them with the skills they require to signpost pastoral concerns effectively. Inevitably students will choose on occasion to discuss issues of a pastoral nature with their PAT and this is recognised in the maintenance of ‘personal’ in the title; however, this should not be the core purpose of the role and PATs must refer students to professionally trained colleagues where appropriate.
Empowering students to take ownership of their learning should not be misconstrued as the institution relinquishing accountability by placing the responsibility of learning solely on students, nor should it be perceived as a model that places the students in deficit through a notion that students just need to work harder in order to be successful (Lombardi, 2016). The model proposed here acknowledges that the institution, and in particular, the tutor will be the person who collaborates with their students to co-construct academic challenge and ensure that this is manageable. Purposeful engagement with progress goals creates an opportunity for students and tutors to reduce the bigger picture of the programme into meaningful individual outcomes (Amabile & Kramer, 2011); the resources provided for personal academic tutors (available on the CELT website) include guidance on effective goal setting.
Tutorials should not be seen by staff or by students as being merely for students who are perceived or who perceive themselves as being in need of support. Tutorial time is an opportunity to discuss how the university and in particular the tutor can work with students in achieving the most from their time at the University of Derby. Tutorials should be an opportunity to encourage students to draw out what is meaningful to them about their programme of study and to identify where they can make progress. Personal academic tutorials will offer students the opportunity to make connections between different elements of their programme and provide the opportunity for staff and students to co-construct a unique overarching narrative that expresses the student’s sense of purpose within the institution. To this end, and in line with recommendations made in the review of Joint Honours, students on Joint Honours Awards will have one tutor who will work with them to understand the narrative that demonstrates the pertinence of their combination of studies to their programme. The allocation of the PAT where a Joint Honours student’s programme of study is split between different colleges will require consideration to ensure parity of allocation, the Joint Honours leads are supportive of this move and will continue to work with colleges in ensuring fair allocation of numbers. It is recommended that there is an allocation of Joint Honours-specific tutors in each college who will specialise in tutoring Joint Honours Students; this is important in ensuring consistency with the approach and equality of experience.
Personal academic tutoring sits between modules and is therefore a programme level activity; its purpose extends beyond curriculum content and should therefore remain discrete from assessment - ie tutorials are not assessed. Personal academic tutoring is fundamental in ensuring students understand their programme of study, the inter-relationship between their programme and the academic, personal and professional development services within the university. Staff will provide guidance to students on how they can make use of these services to ensure that they feel a sense of belonging, that they matter and that they are able to engage with their university experience holistically. The importance of the personal academic tutoring process to the student’s programme of study should be supported by the allocation of hours on their timetable; this will apply only to the group tutorial sessions.
- Personal academic tutors will offer a minimum of two group tutorials per year and two scheduled individual tutorials per semester
- Tutors will be allocated time for ‘non-planned’ tutorial engagement of 2 hours per semester
- The tutorial offer will follow the same pattern over each year group
- Students will be allocated the same Personal Academic Tutor for their entire time at the University where this is practicable
- Personal Academic Tutors can be permanent or temporary members of staff; temporary staff will need to have undertaken the University Induction and Personal Academic Tutor training before they can undertake tutorials
- Personal Academic Tutors should have an allocation of no more than 30 students where practicable 
Hour allocation to Personal Academic Tutoring (minimum standard)
In both semester 1 and 2, each personal academic tutor with 30 students will allocate a minimum of:
- One one-hour group tutorial with each of three groups of ten tutees* **
- Two 30-minute individual tutorials for each of 30 students
- Two hours of drop-in time (one hour per 15 students)
This amounts to a minimum of 70 hours per academic year for each PAT.
* The first semester group tutorial should be timetabled before the third week of teaching in order to ensure early identification of potential retention issues, to offer guidance by way of induction to the university and to set the agenda for the forthcoming individual tutorials.
** Students transferring in for the level 6 year of study only will require an adapted version of the tutorial guidance resource pack which supports their induction to the University.
Level 6 Apprentices will continue with their tripartite meetings which meet the requirements of the PAT policy.
1. Including year 0/foundation year and apprentices; apprentices can expect to receive this offer through the current delivery pattern of the tripartite review.
2. This policy was agreed by Academic Board and by PVC-Deans to ensure that the baseline requirements of the policy are implementable within their respective colleges; it outlines the minimum expectation. Colleges may combine this approach with existing arrangements if it adds to the student offer; however, it is important that adherence to the expectations as set out in the principles for Personal Academic Tutoring (Table 2) are met. This policy takes a phased approach to implementation, the new approach will begin with Level 4 and Level 5 students from September 2018; a new approach at Level 6 is not recommended in 2018. Full implementation across all levels of study is expected by September 2019.
3. An ongoing audit of staff/student ratios is required in order to assess the feasibility of implementation and to evaluate the financial implications at a college level.
Amabile, T., & Kramer T. (2011) The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.
Department for Education (2017) The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework Specification. [last accessed, 23/5/2018].
Dobinson-Harrington, A. (2006) Personal tutor encounters: understanding the experience Nursing Standard. London Vol. 20, Iss. 50 pp. 35-42.
Groves, W. and Burden, P. (2017) The impact of personal tutoring on students. In: UKAT Annual Conference: Advising and Personal Tutoring for Success, Attainment and Retention; 05-06 April, Leeds, U.K. (Unpublished) [last accessed, 23/5/2018].
Hughes, G., Panjawni, M., Tulcidas, P., & Byrom, N., (2018). Student Mental Health: The role and experiences of academics Oxford: Student Minds [last accessed, 23/5/2018].
Lombardi, J.D. (2016) The Deficit Model Is Harming Your Students [last accessed, 23/5/2018].
Owen, M. (2002) Sometimes you feel you’re in niche time: The Personal tutor system a case study. Active Learning in Higher Education ILT. London: Sage Publications
University of Derby (2017) Student Experience Framework (2017-2020).
Yale, A. T. (2017): The personal tutor–student relationship: student expectations and experiences of personal tutoring in higher education, Journal of Further and Higher Education