Personal and pastoral support for PGR students

Information for departments and personal tutors


What arrangements should your department have in place to provide personal and pastoral support for your PGR students? 

The role of personal tutor is pivotal to supporting and guiding PGR students towards becoming independent researchers and reaching their full potential. The following arrangements are recommended as best practice in all departments for the provision of personal and pastoral support:

  • All PGR students should have a named tutor identified to provide personal and pastoral support, who is not connected with the student's research project.
  • Arrangements within the department for personal and pastoral tutoring and what the student can expect from this, should be outlined at inductions and be explained in the department's PGR handbook.
  • These arrangements should include details of other support services available for students to access, for example: the Counselling Service, SAMHS, Nightline, the Multi-Faith Chaplaincy, Central Welfare and Guidance, International Student Support, the University Health Service.
  • All PGR students should be invited to an introduction meeting with their personal tutor within four weeks of their arrival to study their doctoral degree (pro rata for part-time students, and agreed remote arrangements for distance learners). There should then be one follow-up meeting per semester, with a record maintained of these meetings;
  • The confidentiality of provision should be assured, except in disciplinary or other serious cases, when this should be made clear to the individual.
  • Any issues should be identified and resolved at an early stage - the PGR Lead or equivalent could take responsibility for ensuring this happens.
  • The department should provide the option, wherever possible, for students to speak to a female member of staff regarding issues they do not feel comfortable discussing with a male personal tutor.
  • Departments should consider providing a 'buddy' scheme for their doctoral research students, and a postgraduate society, in supporting personal and pastoral provision;
  • Departments should make use of training to be provided to help personal tutors recognise and effectively deal with mental health issues of their students.

Principles of personal and pastoral support for PGR students

These principles aim to:

  • More explicitly state the University's commitment to the provision of academic and pastoral support.
  • Improve the equity and consistency of provision within and across departments.
  • Acknowledge that different departmental structures and sizes require flexibility in terms of where responsibilities lie and how support is made available.  

The principles apply to all PGR students, including those studying with us from abroad. Students on dual programmes should be provided with personal and pastoral support, from within each department.

It is recommended that departments apply these principles to their arrangements for doctoral research students.

  1. Equitable access for all (including DL and PT). Students have different needs and preferences, and should not be treated in the same way; however, all students should have access to the same levels of personal and academic support, including a named academic tutor, and understand what minimum contact they should expect. Departments should actively monitor the availability of and engagement with the support available.
  2. Communication of benefits, roles and responsibilities. All students and staff in the department should understand the benefits of personal and academic support, and the shared responsibilities of all of those involved from within the department and across Professional Services. Departmental structures should promote efficient and effective administration of personal and academic support, enabling academics or staff with specialist skills to focus on their area of expertise. Where pastoral care is separated out from academic support, this should be made explicit to students. Communication activities should underpin Principles 3 and 4.
  3. Proactive relationships and shared responsibilities. Departmental structures and responsibilities should provide continuity of support, and enable tutors and tutees to establish effective and long lasting relationships that promote positive engagement within the academic community. Departments should strive to be proactive and anticipate the needs of students. Students should ensure that they are active participants and seek to make positive changes in their experience as doctoral researchers and for success in their research. 
  4. Promoting success for all students. Personal and academic support is for all students, not just those facing issues or in need of help; it is integral to the student experience and should empower students to succeed in their studies and achieve their full potential. General advice and guidance should be provided alongside effective signposting to specific skills development opportunities. Students should have the opportunity to review and reflect on feedback with a member of academic staff, in doing so progressively developing students’ skills and their potential to build on knowledge and progress successfully. 
  5. Effective provision of pastoral care and referral to specialist support. Departmental approaches to the provision of pastoral care must enable staff to identify student support needs and refer students to specialist support services either within or outside the department. Advice and support should be provided with regard to extenuating circumstances that may affect engagement or progression. Departments should identify common issues being faced by specific student groups and adjust the provision of or access to support as needed.

Departmental guidance

The 'Implementing Personal and Academic Support: Baseline Expectations' guide assists departments to meet each of these principles and understand what is expected of them and their students. These were produced primarily for learning and teaching services, but equally apply to postgraduate provision.  

  • A clear articulation of how principles can be achieved.
  • A tool for departmental self-assessment of the extent to which the principles are being met and delivered consistently.
  • A pathway towards an enhanced offer of personal and academic support and recognition of good practice.
  • A means by which provision can be reviewed and reflected upon at any point in time within faculties, departments and programmes.
  • Raised awareness amongst Heads of Departments of their students' experience of personal and academic support within their department and on their programmes. 

This document is intended for use within a department in order to establish and embed the principles of personal and academic support; it is not intended as a student-facing communication tool.

Baseline Expectations of Personal & Academic Support


Signposting PGR students to other appropriate services 

There will be some issues faced by students that their personal tutor is not equipped to provide advice on. In these instances, the personal tutor should signpost the student to another appropriate service.