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Academic Advisers and Their Role at Arab Universities

From a student’s first days at university to their final exams, most Arab universities now provide academic advisers to smooth the path. Al-Fanar Media has been looking at the role of these advisers and what academic advising consists of.

The relationship between a university student and their academic adviser is a collaborative one, the University of Arizona explains. Advisers aim to help students identify educational and career goals in line with their personal abilities, values, and interests. In this mission, academic advisers rely on their experience, knowledge, and insight.

Academic Advisers’ Roles 

From the first days of term, academic advisers try to allay a student’s fears or academic concerns, encourage them to communicate and participate in student activities, and become a trusted source of advice on all matters related to university life.

Many Arab universities have defined specific services they expect academic advisers to provide. Following are some common ones:

  • Welcoming new students on their first day of term, informing them about the university’s regulations, and giving them as complete a picture as possible about university life.
  • Helping first-year students make the transition from secondary school and adapt to university life, by explaining the differences between the two stages.
  • Helping students choose an appropriate major subject that suits their abilities and ambitions, while advising them about practical matters like the needs of the labour market.
  • Showing students how to choose courses that match their abilities and ambitions and are appropriate to their academic plan.
  • Identifying students who are struggling academically, trying to find the reasons and suggesting ways to overcome them.
  • Informing students about what resources and facilities are available at their university.
  • Discussing the pros and cons of adding or withdrawing from any unit on their courses, to avoid inappropriate choices that might negatively affect their academic progress.
  • Listening to students’ personal problems, especially any that might hinder their educational achievement, and helping them solve such problems.
  • Giving students effective advice on how to study and prepare for exams.

Qualities Academic Advisers Need 

Bay Atlantic University, in Washington, D.C., identifies the following traits as basic qualities a successful academic adviser should have:

  • Communication skills. Oral and written communication skills are essential to help students achieve their educational goals and to explain the university’s regulations and systems.
  • Empathy. Empathy is vital to enable academic advisers to relate to a student’s needs and concerns, provide appropriate advice, and build trust.
  • Problem-solving skills. Academic advisers must be able to analyse problems and provide potential solutions through critical and creative thinking.
  • Patience. Academic advisers should be patient because of the wide range of students they work with, and because the job lasts from a student’s first moments to their final exams.

Academic Advisers in Arab Universities

The role of academic advisers in Arab universities is considered indispensable, but the experiences of students and advisers differ between countries and universities.

Dalil Al-Qarmala, a tutor in the Department of Early Childhood at King Saud University’s College of Education, says academic advisers greatly benefited her educational journey, saving her time and effort by familiarising her with academic curricula and identifying the most appropriate subjects, which helped her get higher grades in exams.

Ahmed Radwan, a physical education student at Jordan’s Yarmouk University, said academic advisers at his university were limited to providing basic information about the location of lectures and events, and explaining how to adjust to the college study system. Radwan would like to see permanently appointed academic advisers to guide new students, rather than relying on the advice of older students.

Mohammed Atef, a graduate of the Information Technology Department at the Universities of Canada in Egypt, believes the greatest help he received from his academic adviser was in choosing each term’s subjects and giving advice about professional life after graduation.

However, Atef says the increasing   number of students per adviser sometimes made it difficult for them to provide the necessary support and attention.

Mohammed Fathy, a faculty member at the Egyptian Chinese University, says academic advisers have significantly benefited the educational process in universities.

“Establishing academic guidance units within the university is one of the most important supervisory services that help students get to know their college’s vision, mission, academic departments, and study systems,” he told Al-Fanar Media. “That’s in addition to following up on students’ progress and helping them overcome obstacles in their academic career.”

Fathy said it was important for academic advisers to have continuous training courses to ensure that they maintain the necessary experience and skills. He also said universities should try not to assign too many students to an adviser.

Essential Duties

Some universities have a list of rules for their academic advisers. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Academic advisers must commit to helping their students identify their academic goals and implement them efficiently. This means advisers must be constantly and easily available within set office hours.
  • Besides reviewing and updating each student’s academic record during advising appointments, academic advisers must explain the university’s regulations and all academic requirements. They should also encourage their students to participate in university activities.
  • Advisers must commit to helping all their students set long-term academic and professional goals, including those students who may be confused or demanding and take longer than their colleagues to make decisions. Advisers must take care to avoid showing annoyance, distress or anger.
  • Advisers must be fully aware of other university support services they can refer a student to, if the student needs assistance the adviser cannot personally provide, such as with health or financial concerns, or other issues. At the same time, the adviser remains the student’s primary contact on everything related to the university, and the main gateway to resources in all areas. 
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