By Eve Bracken-Ingram
A personal tutor is a member of staff who is assigned to a student as their primary support within their higher education institute. Personal tutoring is designed to offer students support and guidance regarding personal and academic issues. Recognising student voice is essential to the development of inclusive educational practices, particularly those which rely on a strong relationship between staff and students. The 2020 paper by Raby (Source) investigates students’ perceptions of personal tutoring by considering a diverse range of voices.
Effective personal tutoring requires a strong relationship between student and tutor. Students have highlighted the need for tutors to be both empathetic and empowering. Care must be taken to minimise the unequal power dynamic between student and tutor to ensure students feel confident to participate in discussion. However, it has been argued that some imbalance of power is essential as to equip tutors with the ability to manage interactions and respond to issues.
It is important to acknowledge to effect of cultural background on students’ perception of personal tutoring, academic relationships, and voice. Universities are diverse institutions, where both students and staff come from many different countries and backgrounds. International students are less likely to approach tutors for support or view themselves as equals within the relationship. Therefore, it may be difficult for tutors to form relationships with international students and provide adequate support. The highlights the requirement for additional training for tutors supporting international students.
However, it is not solely international students who may struggle to interact with personal tutors. It has been observed that many students do not speak up in tutor meetings, which may be taken as a sign of poor engagement. However, as discussed by McLeod (2011), students may participate in a varying number of ways which are less obvious to an observer. Care must be taken not to remove voices from the discussion by imposing a narrow, culturally specific definition of participation on a diverse student population. It is the responsibility of a tutor and a university to ensure all student perspectives are recognised and engaged with. Additionally, it is essential that tutors ensure that confident voices do not overpower others.
There is a mutually beneficial relationship between student voice and personal tutoring. Student voice is vital to the effective development of personal tutoring schemes. Student feedback can be used to improve the personal tutoring service and provide tutors with insight into effective practices. Feedback collected by Raby in this study suggests that students benefit an informal and approachable relationship with their personal tutor, and particularly value empowering academic support. International students have expressed that tutors have eased their transition into another culture, and additional intercultural support would be incredibly beneficial. Reciprocally, personal tutoring can be used to encourage diverse student voice and provide students with a platform to express their opinions. It has been observed that more confident students can overpower others' voices. Alternative methods for students to express their voice could be provided through personal tutoring to ensure all voices are heard and engaged with.