“We didn’t want to adopt our own assumptions, that’s why we asked research firm ‘Jong & je wil wat,’ which focuses on young people, to research this matter,” says Floor Keijsers, communication advisor at ESA. The firm sat down with fourteen students who need extra support during their studies. This resulted in a report with practical recommendations.
“It turned out that there are two groups, roughly speaking: students who know that they need support, because of dyslexia, for example. These students actively start looking for information at the start of their studies. And then there’s a group of students who gradually run into problems during their studies,” Keijsers says. It takes that second group longer to find help. They first need to realize that there might be something more going on than just some bad luck during a semester. They often find help via people around them, through tips from fellow students, for example.
It’s that second group in particular that TU/e hopes to reach better. “That’s why we informed the visitors to the Bachelor Open Day last May with flyers and general presentations. If they wished to, visitors could even make an appointment that very same day with a student counsellor to get information about support for students,” Keijsers says. Ten visitors decided to make such an appointment.
Moreover, this issue will also be addressed in the regular emails that upcoming first-year students will receive from TU/e as soon as they register. “So that students will know where to go to if they need help, should it become relevant.” Based on the research recommendations, the university intends to draw up additional plans in the coming period, Keijsers says in conclusion.
“By the way, you don’t need a label or diagnosis if you want to talk about the possibilities for support,” Anneke Sikkema stresses. In her role as policy officer education at ESA, she’s closely involved with Extra support during your studies. Students can ask support for a wide range of issues: disabilities such dyslexia, ADHD or ASD, a mental or physical impairment, a chronic illness, or mental health problems such as fear of failure or a depression. But students who carry out informal care tasks or who have difficulty balancing a busy family life and their studies are welcome to seek help also.
“Students often think that their problem isn’t ‘serious enough,’” Sikkema says. And that’s a shame, because you can avoid a study delay if you ask for help on time. “Students need to know how easy it is to make an appointment with their academic advisor or student counselor.” The university offers different kinds of support, depending on a student’s situation, including help with planning their studies, examination extension, voice software, a referral to a student psychologist, or a training via ESA.
But no matter how approachable the student counsellor is, it feels more comfortable to talk to people in similar situations first. That is why the university will launch an online platform for and by students with a support need. A kind of forum where they – sometimes even anonymously if they wish to – share experiences and tips. Where can I turn to with my problem? How do I explain my request to that one particular teacher?
Anne Jonker wrote a plan for this forum. The master’s student of Innovation Sciences is a member of the advisory committee for Extra support during your studies. She knows what it’s like to need support. “Due to a brain injury, I have difficulty processing information. That’s why I get more time during exams.”
Jonker asked around at other institutions. “TU Delft, for example, has a similar forum. The plan is to build the platform in Discord this summer, so that students can register for the platform there as of September.” By that time, you’ll find the link here.
The idea is that the platform will be managed by a permanent committee, which needs to ensure that it becomes a useful and safe place for users. Jonker: “We are still looking for students who want to sit on the board of that committee – either because they have first-hand experience, or simply because they have an affinity with this issue, because the students in question often spend much of their time and energy on their studies.”
By the way, the advisory committee of Extra support during your studies is also looking for reinforcement, Anneke Sikkema adds, “because several members will graduate this year.”