Student experience


Tutors in higher education are receiving and responding to student disclosures that include racism, anxiety, loneliness, legal disputes, family upheavals, physical, emotional, and mental health, bereavement, legal battles, and harassment. In many cases, this caring aspect of the tutor role is not acknowledged, allocated time in job descriptions, or accurately remunerated. This qualitative study explored how tutors experienced and managed student disclosures, the personal and professional impact of responding to disclosures, and how tutors believed they could be better supported. Data was collected from two cohorts of participants tutoring at a University in Aotearoa New Zealand. using interviews and questionnaires and analysed by reflexive thematic analysis. Our findings showed that our participants believed they were positioned vulnerably between a rock and a hard place. At the rock, tutors were told to follow university guidelines and refer distressed students to over-loaded course coordinators or over-subscribed support services. At the hard place, tutors were often the first to be disclosed to, because of their front-facing positioning at the university and once they had heard the disclosure felt it was unethical not to try and help. Tutors believed they could assist students with personal challenges if their precarious positioning within the university was protected and strengthened and if appropriate support was provided by their university through training, time, and remuneration. Findings have implications for higher education providers to reconsider how tutors are supported to support students.

Practitioner Notes

  1. Students disclose a wide range of circumstances to tutors, ranging from general stress to grief, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.
  2. Tutors are personally impacted by disclosures and may struggle to create boundaries between work and home when supporting a student.
  3. Tutors desire specific training in order to prepare them to respond to student disclosures.
  4. Tutors feel that the pastoral component of their role is largely unacknowledged and unremunerated.
  5. Tutors navigate complex class dynamics when hosting conversations around sensitive topics, attempting to balance keeping individual students safe alongside the wider class.