Supporting student success

Supporting student success

More than 150 study and careers advisers and counselors gathered at the first EAIE Spotlight seminar from 1-2 December in Berlin, to discuss how to support student success in international higher education in the 2010s. Engagement, transition, inclusion and employability stood out as some of the most debated key concepts. Find out how they contribute to student success and how they can be successfully implemented.


Professor Stuart Billingham opened the seminar with a thought-provoking key note speech on Supporting student success: making excellence inclusive. The idea of engagement was central in his message. Student support professionals need to engage students and work in partnership with them to ensure their success. The students themselves should be supported to engage actively in their own learning experience. It is important that this engagement or participation is connected to clear (learning) outcomes. Student experiences outside the classroom such as volunteering are highly valuable additions to classic teaching methods.

Transition periods are crucial

In the past, learning and careers were both seen as linear trajectories in life. Consequently, student support systems were created to support this idea. Both the Opening key note speaker and the Closing key note speaker, Raimo Vuorinen, emphasised that today, however, student life cycles are no longer linear journeys. Individuals embark on multiple career paths throughout their lives and it is during these different transition periods that they need assistance from student support professionals. Guidance professionals recognised the key role they have in helping students to develop the skills needed for what can, at times, be difficult transition periods in life.

“Treat all students the same and each student differently”

Throughout the seminar, participants and speakers alike recognised the challenges that an increasingly diversified student body poses for their profession, their institutions and their students. Stuart Billingham advocated for a link between diversity, inclusion and quality – diversity and inclusion being critical in achieving a high quality student experience, which is an essential contributor to student success. In order to achieve this, institutions need to develop a cohesive approach that encompasses the entire institution and constitutes both policies and practices that identify and embrace diversity. The importance of having an integrated institutional approach was echoed in the Closing plenary, where participants called for student service professionals to reach out to academics to have a cohesive approach to student success and learning.

Multiple (student) identities

The seminar showed that students are often still viewed as if being a student in general, and an international or home student in particular, would be their most defining characteristic. In reality, however, students and international students have multiple identities and ‘international’ or ‘student’ might not be their most defining one; some students are also parents or employees. It is not only current experiences, but also those from the past and future that shape students’ identities. Institutions, more often than not, develop policies for integration and inclusion based on these identity stereotypes. Participants shared successful examples of how to include students based on their interests rather than on the home and international identity.


For students, it’s not only about getting a degree but also about gaining the right skills needed to be attractive on the employment market and navigate through their transition phases in life. Employability is hence increasingly viewed as a key aspect of success. Seminar sessions showed that employers are looking for transversal skills such as curiosity, problem-solving and flexibility in graduates. It became evident that having a curricula and co-curricula that transfers these skills to students is crucial. Equally fundamental, is helping students learn how to sell the skills gained during their (international) study experience to potential employers.

The seminar provided plenty of examples of how to increase students’ employability skills. Taking advantage of students’ cultural capital and facilitating cultural integration in curricula and co-curricula were seen as important notions. Here again, the cooperation between academia and student support professionals is key in fostering these skills. An example of this is seen at Eindhoven University of Technology, where students can receive credit for courses that teach them to network and brand themselves. Different student buddy systems were also praised for their impact on student inclusion, as well as their ability to  foster social skills and pro-activeness.

Widen the competence base of guidance professionals

Counselling and advising professionals need to document successes to receive institutional support. In times of austerity, only strictly necessary projects will be funded. This in turn raised the question of changing skill needs of advising professionals. The professionals themselves found it challenging to combine the skills of guidance professionals and the skills required to articulate the need for student services to institutional management. Widening the competence base of guidance professionals was therefore seen as necessary to receive the essential funding to develop high-quality student support systems.

Student support professionals hence have a challenge ahead of them in seeking to “treat all students the same and each student differently”, while at the same time ensuring student support services are a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’ in the future.