Higher education advice worker: job description

Higher education advice workers or student services advisers provide a free, confidential, non-judgemental, independent information, advice and advocacy service on a wide range of issues for current and prospective university students.

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Higher education advice workers may also be called student services advisers, student welfare officers or other similar titles.

What does a higher education advice worker do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Advice workers are employed by colleges of further and higher education and universities. They are typically based in a university's advice service and offer a support and advocacy service to students. They may have a particular focus on providing support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and disabled, part-time and mature students.

There is some variation in responsibilities between organisations, although key duties of the job include:

  • interviewing staff and students
  • providing advice about debt/finance, health, disability, disciplinary matters, personal problems, academic studies, welfare benefits, employment, housing and other issues
  • assessing problems
  • writing reports
  • producing information for publications and web pages
  • mediating on a student's behalf with landlords, banks, academic staff or other students
  • providing legal representation at court cases, disciplinary hearings and tribunals
  • maintaining information systems
  • compiling statistics
  • researching cases
  • giving talks
  • interpreting legislation
  • maintaining confidential case records
  • keeping up-to-date with appropriate legislation and policies
  • providing targeted careers advice to help a student move on to employment or further study

Liaising with other internal departments and external organisations is a key feature of the work. Dealing with large numbers of enquiries from students that may be in crisis situations can make the work emotionally demanding.

Vacancies are advertised in local, regional and national newspapers and Adviser magazine, which is published by Citizens Advice, as well as on higher education institutions’ own online job boards.

Qualifications and training required

Graduates are often preferred for roles in higher education advice due to their experience of university. However, personality and relevant experience are often more important than qualifications and there may be routes into this area of work for job hunters who do not have degrees.

Relevant degrees for this profession are: law, counselling, guidance, psychology, education, social/community work, public administration or social sciences.

Work experience can be gained by helping in a local advice centre or students' union welfare office. There are also opportunities to volunteer for Citizens Advice.

Employers typically offer their own training programmes. There are various qualifications available in general advice work at a range of levels, and the charity Advice UK provides information about these.

Key skills for higher education advice workers

Higher education advice workers should be highly organised, resourceful, mature, confident, caring and patient. Empathetic listening skills and good communication skills are essential, as are analytical, presentation and teamwork skills. Knowledge and/or experience of relevant legislation is also useful.

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