If you run into problems with your studies, are you comfortable asking your tutor for help? We like to think that at Oxford Business College, every single student would answer with a resounding “Yes.” But a recent academic study pinpointing the difficulties some students have in accessing advice has perhaps highlighted an important difference between large-scale universities and the more supportive environment of an independent higher education institution such as OBC.

A research paper from Reading University concludes that a combination of fear and pride can stop “non-traditional” learners – which it defines as ethnic minority, working-class and mature students – from asking for help in higher education.

The study observes that non-traditional students can feel like “a fish out of water” at university which can “constitute a foreign or even hostile environment for ‘people like them’.” As a result, it can feel “difficult or even uncomfortable for some students” to seek support from their tutors.

“I think all of our tutors would recognise this issue from their experiences teaching in larger institutions,” says Oxford Business College Principal Gerry Takamura. “But the great advantage of studying somewhere like OBC is that the student-tutor relationship is much closer right from the start. Here you can have as many as 20 hours a week contact time with your tutors, whereas in a big university that figure could be as low as six. And because of this more personalised teaching approach, the ‘fear factor’ doesn’t really apply in the same way as it might in a lecture-hall environment, which is important to us as a good proportion of our students come from the ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds mentioned in the report.”

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The Reading University study makes three key recommendations: 1) ensuring the tutor support system is a core part of the student experience; 2) providing example assignments to help students understand academic writing style; and 3) involving students in decision-making about how support services are developed. All three practices are already well enshrined in the Oxford Business College ethos, says Gerry. “We operate an open-door policy as standard,” she explains, “which means any student can come to me or any other member of staff for advice whenever they want to. It’s key to our success.

“With regards to writing in an ‘academic’ style, we do make example assignments available to students to borrow to give them a model to follow. But we also offer Study Skills classes, particularly to help students who are not native speakers of English or those who are returning to the academic environment after a time away. Nobody should feel embarrassed about developing their skills.”

Gerry believes that while British higher education has a well deserved sky-high reputation around the world, the university environment doesn’t suit everybody. For some students, a less intimidating atmosphere could be a big plus. “At Oxford Business College we set out from Day 1 to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has the support they need to get the most from their experience here and maximise their potential,” she says.