Introducing… Our Academic Programme Support Tutors

Posted on: 2020-01-16

Our ‘Introducing…’ blog series profiles different teams or services across UCEM.


The latest team to feature in the series are the Academic Programme Support Tutors based at our Reading HQ: Lucy Walker, Sarah Brennan and Debra Mann.


The team take a hands-on approach to ensure UCEM students are successful. Here, the team describe the work they do and what they enjoy about it…


‘We provide guidance and academic support which is not subject-specific’

LW: As Academic Programme Support Tutors, we support both students and programmes. We are part of a wider team called ‘Learning and Teaching Enhancement’ – and that’s what we do; all aspects of our role are focused on enhancing learning and aiding student success. We have all got teaching backgrounds and experience within the team. We also have a team member in our Hong Kong office – Masumi Tam – who supports our students in that region.

Lucy Walker

Lucy Walker

The student-facing side of things is very varied. We deal with students who need guidance and academic support which is not subject-specific. This can be anything from helping with time management to academic writing and referencing. We look after the Study Skills and Induction areas of the VLE [virtual learning environment].

Students come to us via different routes such as the Student Engagement and Enquiries Teams, the Academic Teams on the modules/programmes and Coursework Teams. We also get referrals from the Disability and Wellbeing Team as we can sometimes help when students don’t necessarily want or need an additional support plan in place. In turn, we also refer students to other specialist teams within UCEM as appropriate; it could be for careers support, student finance queries, something relating to health and wellbeing or another team around the institution.

The level of support we offer depends on the individual – sometimes it’s over quickly in a phone call, others we may work with on an ongoing basis. There is a wide variety of support available. It’s down to the individual and what they need support with.

We work a lot with the Academic Team, from the creation of assessments, where we are involved with the internal verification process of the writing of assignments and exams, through to the development of module resources.

We produce module calendars to provide a weekly breakdown of subjects covered, webinars and assessment deadlines. This is so students have this information in an easy format. We also produce the assignment support documents, which is done in conjunction with the Module Leader as the subject expert.  We do it on an assignment-by-assignment basis and include a tick list so students can dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s.

We develop new resources as the need arises. For example, a report template was needed as it varied from module to module so some of our work is about improving the consistency of experience for the students.

As you can see, our role is a real mixture of the proactive and reactive, however, it’s all about helping students achieve and be successful.

We help with Student Central enquiries. Because of the flexibility of our programmes with students able to suspend and defer their studies, we work with the students to see if they need to go through with halting their studies. We can help intervene in such situations.

We also do quite a lot of work with the Registration Team, contacting suspended students and those who have taken a gap in their studies. The purpose of this is to aid the students’ successful return to their study programme. Information is sent to students who have suspended their studies to let them know what’s going on at UCEM (and within the wider built environment) while they are not with us and help them still feel part of the UCEM community.

Any student that doesn’t achieve a pass mark on their first assessment will be contacted with additional advice and guidance to supplement the feedback from the marker.

There is also other ‘behind the scenes’ work that we do which includes various team members taking part in working groups, panels, boards, and all sorts of things which help to improve the student experience, student success and help UCEM achieve its objectives.

‘There for everybody, all the time’

LW: The number of students we support is flexible because of what we do

At the beginning of the semester, we have a lot of students who we interact with. It can be scary when students begin their studies with us and new students can be supported with any enquiry they have as they familiarise themselves with their programme, module and studying online. Often, new students need to take a step back and get their heads around what they are doing. We are there for everybody, all the time.

There are peaks in terms of when we will have an influx of enquiries such as when assignment deadlines and exams are coming up and when results come out. When results come out, for example, we can help students apply their feedback to improve and develop as they progress.

‘Bridging the gap between students and tutors’

LW: I enjoy the variety of the role as we work with so many other departments within UCEM. The student interaction is my favourite part, helping students to succeed and achieve their aims. That’s why I do it.

I enjoy building relationships both internally and with students, particularly when I work with people on an ongoing basis. It’s very rewarding when you have worked with a student and then they contact you again, out of the blue, as they trust you will support them. I love seeing that students we have supported have done well in their assessments – that’s a real positive of the role. It’s also rewarding getting feedback from both the module teams and students saying how helpful resources our team have worked on have been for them.

SB: I enjoy having contact with the students and having feedback from them as we build relationships with them. I enjoy working with the Academic Team. Our role helps bridge the gap between the students and the tutors which is important.

DM: I particularly enjoy the dual aspect of being able to support students in being successful on their programme of studies whilst working with the Module Leaders and Tutors to support them and the programme itself. This means that, whilst supporting students, it is possible to identify where further enhancements to the programme may be of benefit in further facilitating student success. I then work with the Academic Team to assist with these enhancements. Ultimately, in working with both students and tutors, the opportunity for students to succeed with their studies is maximised. Working with students, contributing to their academic journey and seeing their success, each and every semester, is highly rewarding!

Career to date

SB: I’ve been with UCEM for almost two years. I was a secondary school teacher for seven years and I also worked at a widening participation charity in London where we trained PhD graduates to become teachers.

Sarah Brennan

Sarah Brennan

I am very interested in widening participation and increasing access to students from a variety of backgrounds and with various skillsets. What I like about UCEM is the flexibility of studying as it’s an online institution so it’s accessible for all.

LW: I have been at UCEM for four years. Prior to that, I spent seven years’ working in further education with students who were studying on construction, motor vehicle and engineering courses. Before that, I worked at CITB with construction apprentices.

DM: I have managed and lectured within both Higher Education and Further Education, across both the private and public sectors, over a considerable period of time, enabling students from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities achieve their educational goals and pursue the professional careers of their choice.

I have a strong interest in promoting accessibility within courses of study and ensuring both equality of opportunity and equitability for all those pursuing educational attainment within Higher Education.


As our next cohort of students join UCEM over the next couple of months, we thought we’d asked the team what top tips they have for our new learners…

LW: If you are unsure about anything, ask. Remember: it’s supported online learning. Never feel like you are out there on your own. There is always someone to ask. Make the most of the resources available to you – they will enhance both your academic and professional life.

SB: Spend time familiarising yourself with the VLE and look at our Induction and Study Skills sections for more hints and tips. Don’t leave it too late to say there is a problem – there are lots of people here to help you. Make sure that you organise your time and block out specific times/days to do your studying – you will be grateful for this in the long run! Don’t leave things until the last minute. And talk to us!

DM: Plan how you are going to manage and organise your time, particularly if you are working full-time. You could use the module calendar to do this. Build your study time into your routine – this will help to ensure that you stay up to date with your studies and maintain the momentum needed to succeed! Please let us know how we can support you with your studies. We are here to assist you in achieving your educational goals!

If you are a UCEM student and would like to access the non-subject-specific resources created by our Academic Programme Support Tutors, head to the ‘Study skills’ section of the VLE. If you would like to speak with an Academic Programme Support Tutor, please contact the Student Engagement Team in the first instance.