By Andreea Nemes
The new Advice and Support Centre opened its doors this year in the location formerly occupied by the University’s cash office at 79 North Street.
The ASC has now merged all offices dealing with student matters ranging from finance, visa problems or personal issues under the banner of Student Services. This has replaced what was formerly known as Student Support Services located at the Students’ Association.
Dr Christine Lusk, Director of Student Services, cites a number of administerial issues that led to the creation of the ASC.
Firstly, students recognized the cash office as a place to go with questions. However, many were coming to the staff with non-finance questions that needed to be addressed.
Secondly, students were coming to Student Support Services confused by the amount of contradictory information they were receiving from different departments across the University.
Thirdly, student surveys conducted over the past three years showed that although students believe that a face-to-face interaction is most helpful in answering their questions, they don’t know where to go in order to navigate what Lusk refered to as “an increasingly complex administrative process.”
Lusk continued to say that “students expected the whole University to be singing with one voice” but were finding that asking the same question to a member of staff in the registry office as well as in the cash office would not yield the same response. Information is constantly changing and different departments and offices are using different systems to process information. As a result, it was decided that the ASC would be the place where information pertaining to student issues would be consolidated.
Lusk describes the ASC as “the centrepoint where everyone knows what’s going on” as well as “the focus point of communication between the students and the University.” The ASC is staffed by members from the former Student Support Services, the registry office, the cash office as well as a rotational guest slot that can be occupied by the frontline staff of any University department. It is also the front door where students can communicate with wardenial teams, emergency services, international advisors or disabilities officers. Lusk says that staff members at the ASC refer to themselves as the A-Team in their attemts to “monitor and fix the student experience.”
Since its doors opened this term the ASC has already done a number of things to improve the student experience. When international students were experiencing problems setting up back accounts members of staff wen to speak with the banks. When commuter students expressed concerns over their social experience at the University, the ASC created a room for them in its building where they could all meet and socialise.
When the ASC sees patterns starting to emerge as a large number of students come in with the same issues it hopes to “plug the gaps where problems are emerging” according to Dr Lusk.
Long-term goals for the ASC include an office in the Students’ Associaton in conjunction with a future redvelopment of the building as well as a technical unification of systems across the University.
The ASC is also planning to celebrate international festivals and holidays in order to make international students feel more welcome. Lusk emphasises that the team at the ASC is flexible and that it wants the ASC to “be owned by the student body.”
Ally Holmes, Director of Student Development & Activities at the Students’ Association, adds that “The ASC is something that has been long overdue and judging by the amount of people and queries that we have dealt with in such a short time, justifies what Dr Chris Lusk has strived to set up for all students and their experiences within this University.”