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Standards of the ZSB – General Student Advisory Service of Bielefeld University

The ZSB-Central Study Advisory Service offers free counselling to pupils and others interested in studying as well as for students in all phases of their studies up to graduation or doctorate. With an open and integrated model of general and psychological counselling, support is provided for problems and difficulties that arise during studies and in the context of studying (especially when choosing a course of study, in learning and work situations, anxieties around exams and crises of motivation, and with social and psychological difficulties arising while studying). Persons who are involved with students can also make use of the counselling service, for example with regard to dealing with mentally stressed students or those who appear troubled, conflicts with students, etc. (e.g. lecturers, relatives).

The counselling process offers reflexive support in decision-making and study orientation, when planning and taking practical steps in studies or issues surrounding them. This is achieved by providing relevant information, by holding clarification and counselling sessions with individuals, free workshops, group training sessions and psychological group counselling sessions, etc. In addition, the ZSB liaises with university authorities of relevance to students, which it sees as an important role in resolving issues and improving study conditions.

Quality counselling is based on the following professional standards:

Person-centred

Student counselling is person and client-centred. Person-centred means that the consultation originates from the individual’s situation and their own perception of the problem. The issue is defined by the person seeking advice, not by the advisor. Client-centred means that the concerns of the person seeking advice take precedence over the institutional requirements of the university.

Context oriented

At the same time - and this does not contradict the person-centred approach – the student advisory services are context-oriented. Advisors are aware of the complexity of the educational organisation of a university and will frame the concerns of their clients within the social context of the client’s studies. In this way, informing students about study requirements and engaging with the background institutional and higher educational policies is an integral part of the advisory service, and also helps, among other things, to prevent problems occuring during studies.

Focus on solutions and resources

The advice given aims to deal with the concerns expressed by the client and supports necessary changes on their part, their social environment or the conditions of learning and working at the university. The counselling is resource-oriented and assumes that the person seeking advice has competences, self-help potential and autonomy which can be strengthened and supported in the counselling process, in the sense of empowerment. In accordance with the principle of minimal intervention, no attempt is made to bring about a comprehensive change in personality or to go beyond the issues at hand.

Responsibility

The counselling service is based on the principle of responsibility for treatment or referral. This means that after all concerns are aired in the advice session, if they do not fall within the area of the ZSB, the advisor will refer the client to a more relevant advisory service. No client should be turned away without being offered another service better suited to their needs. In cases where referrals have proved to be unsuitable, the client is invited to come back to the ZSB at any time if necessary.

Partiality

Partiality with regard to the client means that their legitimate concerns are taken up and support offered to help the client implement the best possible solution (e.g. in choosing a suitable subject, a suitable university, for cases of disputes involving students within the university, and also for teachers needing support in dealing with students).

Voluntariness and transparency

Good counselling is undertaken voluntarily and is conducted in a transparent manner. If a client has the freedom to determine whether to take up or stop counselling, a positive therapeutic relationship can develop. This has been proved to be a central factor for effective therapy across all impact studies. Even in cases where counselling has been prompted by pressure from the social environment or has arisen from a critical situation, the decision must finally rest with the client. Any discussions that are obligatory should be given a different term (e.g. orientation meeting, clarification of facts etc.). The counselling process and its conditions should be made transparent and clear to the client ("informed consent").

Confidentiality

All ZSB staff at the Central Student Advisory Service are required to observe confidentiality when dealing with clients, which is fundamental to any professional advisory service. For open and helpful communication, prospective students, undergraduates, doctoral candidates or even teachers need to feel safe in the knowledge that their problem is being treated in confidence. Confidentiality can only be broken in case of danger posed to oneself or others (e.g. thoughts of suicide, threats against other persons).

Accessibility and diversity

Every prospective or current student is entitled to easy access to counselling - regardless of gender, age, skin colour, cultural background, sexual orientation, medical condition or educational and professional status. To make counselling more accessible, a flexible time structure can be offered, areas can be screened off, and counselling can also be tailored to meet the needs of certain groups with specific offers.

Inclusion

Special target groups, e.g. people with disabilities or psychological and social disadvantages, are entitled to advisory study services with appropriate counselling methods that meet their needs and communication requirements.

Openness of results

The qualitative results of counselling are primarily measured according to the client’s perspective and not by any views expressed by the counsellor. It is solely up to the client to draw conclusions from the counselling, e.g. on deciding on a particular course or to continue or discontinue his or her studies. Counselling does not attempt to push people seeking advice in certain directions that are socially or institutionally desirable.

Prevention

Prevention relates (a) to individual attitudes or behaviour and (b) to conditions.

Workshops and subject-specific offers for prospective and current students serve primarily to prevent unfavourable attitudes and conduct during studies.

b) Providing feedback to university committees and authorities responsible based on experience and knowledge gained from student counselling (e.g. on particular sources of stress) will contribute to improving study conditions.

Qualification of advisors

Like any other kind of counselling, student counselling involves a dual approach that combines (a) general counselling knowledge and skills and (b) area-specific knowledge, in this case on higher education and students. The required knowledge in student counselling extends to pedagogical, psychological, sociological and socio-professional aspects (e.g. about youth and young adulthood, about learning and motivation, about life situations, life worlds and milieus of pupils and students, about education, educational institutions and especially about universities). It also demands comprehensive knowledge, a repertoire of methods and reflexivity of action in psychological and pedagogical counselling. In addition, openness to diversity, impartiality and self-reflexivity are personal qualities that are necessary for good counselling.

Supervision, further training and involvement in advisory policy

Regular and adequate supervision (supervised or collegial) is an essential part of ensuring quality is maintained in any form of counselling. As, in this case, qualification in both counselling and in the area of higher education is a requirement, advisors at the ZSB regularly attend training courses to keep themselves informed of developments both in counselling and in this specialist area.

Documentation, evaluation and research

In order to be able to identify and react to developments in counselling, advice sessions are documented; they can also become the subject of research. Counselling is evaluated through client feedback, knowledge is shared with other higher education institutions that deal with students needing guidance (e.g. subject advisors in the faculties, Studierendensekretariat [student office]), and there is team reflection on the documented developments. In the case of documentation and evaluation, the time and effort involved must be in a reasonable proportion to the counselling work. Confidentiality and data protection must be strictly observed.

Updated and revised February 2013

References

The IAEVG/AIOSP

International Association for Educational and Vocational Guidance).

Paris declaration 2001.

 

DGfB German Association for Counseling: psycho-social counselling agreement. Cologne 2003.

 

FEDORA Charter on Guidance and Counselling within the European Higher Education Area 2005

 

German National Guidance Forum in Education, Career and Employment

Quality attribute of good counselling. Berlin 2001

 

Nestmann, F., U. Sickendiek & F. Engel: ‘Die Zukunft der Beratung in Bildung, Beruf und Beschäftigung’. In: U. Sickendiek, F. Nestmann, F. Engel & V. Bamler (publisher), ‘Beratung in Bildung, Beruf und Beschäftigung’. p 13-52. Tübingen, dgvt-​Verlag 2007.

Further documents

The promotion of women in student counselling

The advancement of women at Bielefeld University is the responsibility of all students and staff. Promoting women goes beyond efforts to achieve equality for both sexes in access to education and positions. It also means taking measures that are designed to make the infrastructure of the University and its academic culture as a whole more women-friendly.  

Student counselling is closely involved with topics that are important for improving the study and training situation of women in two respects. On the one hand, it is the task of the Student Advisory Service to help prospective and current students to find their way through university life, and the Student Advisory Service is thus dedicated to supporting and encouraging all students. On the other hand, student advisors as part of their job, experience close-up the difficulties and irritations that women face when they take up studies or pursue an academic career.  In this way, they are well aware of the possible problems and challenges women face at the University. In other words, the Student Advisory Service has a good basis from which to advance women in the University. And how does the ZSB (as the Central Advisory Service of Bielefeld University) implement the directive to promote women in its work in practice?

 The ZSB works with an integrated approach to counselling. This mean that concerns are not defined into separate categories such as ‘information’, ‘study advice’, or ‘psychological counselling’. The client can approach any advisor with their problem. This is also the case for the specific concerns of women and for the theme of gender equality. This means that there are no separate drop-in times for women, and no dedicated office or staff member solely responsible. Everyone can come to any one of our advisors with their problems. We strive to have all information at hand which is relevant for women students and to competently address the counselling needs of women.

Clients may, however, find issues easier to talk through with a woman. Perhaps they feel it they can only talk about their issue with a women counsellor. If this is the case, we can accommodate you. Or you may contact a female counsellor directly.

Sadly, even the university is not immune to sexist behaviour and sexual violence. Women at universities can experience assaults, uncomfortable situations or the unwanted sexualisation of learning environments or learning relationships. If you are unsure how to deal with situations such as these that make you feel uncomfortable, or if you have experienced sexual assault, try to confide in people you know and trust. You can also contact the ZSB advisors.