Advocacy Services

Professional advocacy is a critical service that provides students (both individually and collectively) independent representation of their interests to the University.

The Commonwealth Government requires that all tertiary students must have access to independent advocacy services and as such they are provided on a confidential basis, at no direct cost to students.

Students may use the service as a result of any administrative or academic issues in relation to faculty, institutes or graduate schools; academic staff including lecturers, supervisors or examiners; University administration, or the personal circumstances of an individual student.

Background

Previously advocacy services have been provided to students by two separate organisations. The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) provided advocacy services to both undergraduate and graduate students and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) provided advocacy services to graduate students.

Discussions concerning a single advocacy service have been underway for some time.

In July 2010, the University Council adopted some principles concerning the funding of student organisations, one of which was an expectation that students would work together to deliver services efficiently and minimise duplication of back of house and administrative functions.

In 2011, the Provost requested UMSU and GSA to develop a proposal for a shared advocacy service. Some discussions took place between UMSU and GSA, but no resolution concerning a shared service was reached.

As a result, the Provost proposed a tender process for the advocacy service which, following passage of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) legislation, was to be funded from the SSAF. The University Council supported this approach at its December 2011 meeting.

In January/February 2012, both the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) were invited to tender to provide this service.

Result of the tender process

As a result of the tender process undertaken in February/March 2012, and following careful assessment, it was determined that the single bid received (from UMSU) would meet the requirements for service delivery. The GSA chose not to submit a bid.

UMSU has demonstrated experience and developed expertise in supporting both coursework and research higher degree students in its existing service. Consequently it is well placed to continue to provide a professional advocacy service to all students at the University.

UMSU will receive an annual budget of $400,000, drawn from the SSAF revenue, for the provision of professional advocacy to the entire student body.

The expanded service will commence from Tuesday 1 May 2012.

FAQs

Will the new service be independent?

UMSU Advocates are not University employees and they are not answerable to University staff in the performance of their roles.

The independence of advocacy services funded through the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) is protected by Federal Government legislation.

Chapter 2 of the Student Services, Amenities, Representation and Advocacy guidelines of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 outlines the standards required to comply with the legislation. See the Federal Government's Support for Student Services, Amenities, Representation and Advocacy webpage for more.

Item 2.2.4 reads, in part:

"Advocacy officers should act in the best interest of students and be disassociated from the HEP's [Higher Education Provider’s] decision-makers in respect of the HEP's academic and procedural rules and regulations and other staff who administer the HEP’s academic and procedural rules and regulations."

Advocates of the UMSU advocacy service are employees of Melbourne University Student Union Limited (MUSUL) seconded to UMSU, paid through UMSU funds, and under the independent governance structures of both.

For detailed information about the interaction procedures and staffing principles for staff employed by MUSUL, please refer to Schedules 8 and 9 of the MU Student Union Ltd (MUSUL) & UMSU Incorporated (UMSU) Facilities and Services Agreement 2007 (PDF 122.3 KB).

How will the University ensure the quality of the service provided?

As a result of winning the tender process, the advocacy service will need to demonstrate that it is delivering services to the required level. This will be done through an annual, independently verifiable survey of users that will ask if the service:

  • was provided in a timely manner once the specific issues had been raised
  • provided clear communication of advocacy processes to the student
  • ensured the student was kept well informed during the process
  • supported appropriate submissions to University or other bodies to resolve issue
  • provided clear communication on the outcome of individual cases

Similarly, the student representative bodies will be surveyed to confirm that "timely statistical information on advocacy issues was provided to our organisation".

These surveys have a key accountability function; ensuring resources are being used and targeted efficiently and equitably.

The advocacy service will also be required to provide a range of statistical information on a quarterly basis (at a minimum). This will include information such as:

  • the number of student related issues by type of student (undergraduate, post graduate, RHD)
  • categories of issues
  • source of issue (University administration, graduate school, faculty etc)
  • type of student (government funded, Australian fee paying, international fee paying)

These reports will enable meaningful data to be placed in context to inform both elected student representatives of UMSU and the GSA, as well as the University, of trends and possible systemic issues arising in relation to the student experience.

What was requested as part of the tender?

The formal Request for Tender specified that the winning bid would need to provide coordinated student advocacy services to University students (both undergraduate and postgraduate) in the following areas:

  • Grievances
  • Supervision
  • Academic appeals
  • Taking Leave
  • Unsatisfactory progress
  • Academic misconduct (plagiarism)
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Bullying
  • Research misconduct
  • Intellectual property disputes
  • General issues of service provision from the University

In addition, the winning bid would need to demonstrate the following:

  • Capability in delivering required advocacy services, as defined above
  • Appropriate marketing and promotional activities to ensure that the student cohort is aware of the service and understands their rights, entitlements and obligations; and how to access the services. Including clear website access and phone number for phone access
  • Educative programs to empower and to build confidence through various mechanisms with the goal of empowering students to exercise their rights appropriately on their own behalf
  • Detailed overview of how physical delivery of service and the proposed access points for students will be provided
  • Detailed standard operating procedures which will ensure consistency of service delivery and maximise outcomes for students
  • Appropriate organisational controls and information system security to guarantee student information is kept confidential at all times
  • Effective management structure in place to ensure service delivery
  • Defined protocols to capture key statistical outcomes of advocacy requests and ensure this information is quickly and effectively communicated to UMSU and GSA student representatives on a non identified basis
  • Ability to produce detailed quarterly reports summarising student advocacy issues
  • Defined protocols that determine the process for student representative to access to statistical data collected by the Advocacy service
  • Detailed referral strategy to direct students to additional and relevant support services
  • Statement of Independence. What structure, steps and processes are in place to ensure that independent advice is provided to students?
  • Outline how the tenderer will provide advice to government, the University and other fora through written submissions and presentations on matter which may compromise student rights and entitlements.

How will this decision improve services?

The reason that the University has sought to provide funding for a single advocacy service is to ensure a maximally effective service for all students.

A single service can enjoy the benefits of specialist advocacy expertise as well as efficient operations and administration, and therefore ensure that funds devoted to advocacy (and additional $400,000 annually, drawn from the Student Services and Amenities Fee) can have maximum impact in the interests of all students.

Does the new service have experience with graduate cases?

The UMSU advocacy service already deals with a substantial number of graduate students each year, and the proportion of graduate students in the service's caseload, including Research Higher Degree students, has grown steadily over the last five years. In 2011, graduate students accounted for more than 20% of the service's caseload.

Caseload 2007 – 2011 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 Change 2007 - 2011
Undergraduate representation
Undergraduate caseload 885 755 799 777 792 -10.51%
Total undergraduate students 28,159 27,967 27,714 27,331 27,416 -2.64%
Caseload as % of undergraduate population 3.14% 2.70% 2.88% 2.84% 2.89% -8.08%
Undergraduates as % of total caseload 90.52% 87.80% 84.38% 80.80% 78.57% -13.20%
Graduate representation
Graduate Caseload 113 118 149 169 216 +91.15%
Total graduate students 15,633 16,388 17,233 18,565 20,329 +30.04%
Caseload as % of graduate population 0.72% 0.72% 0.86% 0.91% 1.06% +46.99%
Graduates as % of total caseload 9.48% 12.20% 15.62% 19.20% 21.43% +125.97%
Totals
Total caseload 998 873 939 946 1008 +1.00%
Total caseload as % of student population 2.26% 1.95% 2.07% 2.02% 2.11% -6.39%
Total students 44,251 44,855 45,448 46,867 47,745 +7.90%

Will specialist services be provided for RHD and graduate coursework students?

UMSU is currently working with the Melbourne School of Graduate Research (MSGR) to ensure both a smooth transition to a single advocacy service and that the needs of graduate students will be met.

The following statement is taken from the Student Union Advocacy Services tender application and describes their philosophy and approach to providing advocacy services to all students regardless of their status at the University.

The UMSU advocacy service has developed its structure, operating procedures and protocols on the strength of many years of service provision at this University. Historically, a number of models of service delivery have been explored. Notably, previous service models based on staff specialisation (eg post graduate advisors and mature age advisors) have proved to be both limited in efficacy and an inefficient use of available resources and expertise.

Experience has shown that benefit to students is maximised when all staff are able to provide a service to any student who presents, regardless of their particular status at the University.

Fundamentally, this is grounded in solid training and the ongoing development of expertise in the principles of professional advocacy. This model has also proved to ensure both predictability and consistency of service to students regardless of when they present and which staff member they consult.

The University has well established cycles which create peaks of demand for certain groups of students. Consequently meeting such demands depends on the availability of all staff to provide a service, for example during the coursework unsatisfactory progress period which involves high volumes of coursework students seeking advice simultaneously. Issues specific to higher degree by research students such as supervision problems, intellectual property disputes and confirmation and academic progress problems tend to be evenly spread throughout the academic year.

Evidence clearly indicates that the types of matters of concern to students have little correlation with the student's particular characteristics, but rather are defined along the broad parameters in which they interact with the University. Thus, advocacy issues will reliably divide into those matters characterised as administrative, those which are academic in nature, interpersonal conflicts and compound issues which are a combination of any or all of these areas. This is no less the case for a new undergraduate in their first semester of study as it may be for a PhD candidate dealing with supervision conflicts.

The UMSU advocacy service consistently accommodates all of these issues based on adherence to the principles of professional advocacy and with regard to the relevant University policy or statutory footing.

How to access the Advocacy service

The Advocacy service is located on 3rd Floor of Union House. It operates between 9:00am and 5:00 pm Monday to Friday.

Appointments can be made by calling 8344 6546 or emailing suashelp@union.unimelb.edu.au

The Advocacy service website is Advocacy service

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