University of Sassari – Sassari, Italy

The University of Sassari’s guidance program includes counseling services and psychological support. The focus on these aspects of student well-being is rooted in the idea of shaping students’ university experience as one that enhances the potential of each student. The service started in 2010, by both academic and non-academic stakeholders, primarily through the collaboration between ERSU Sassari and the Department of Social and Law Psychology. ERSU is the Regional Body for the Right to Higher Education in Sassari and it offers financial and/or residential support to students, researchers and professors. ERSU is a public organization funded by the Autonomous Region of Sardinia. The service supports the following student equity groups: persons with disabilities, low-income students, first generation students. Both student and staff equity groups are supported when it comes to persons with a refugee or migrant background, LGBTQ persons and racial minorities. These equity groups were identified by the University’s internal policies and directly by the University’s governing bodies. The service is structured to meet specific targets regarding the number of its users.

The service implements activities aimed both at students and university staff. In addition to psychological support, activities include efforts for structural improvement (accessibility improvement) and educational activities. In the last two years, the service organized the following activities: 

  1. Support and counseling both for students and university staff, 
  2. Lectures, workshops, seminars for students, faculty and non-teaching staff, 
  3. Training courses for peer educators, 
  4. Public promotion (for example, production of media content such as podcasts), 
  5. Fundraising events, 
  6. Improving physical and digital accessibility.

In addition to these activities supporting inclusion, the service also implements activities to counter exclusionary and discriminatory practices by relying on strategies and actions plans, recommendations and guidelines and preventive programs. All services are free and in addition to Italian, are available in English, French and Spanish, to accommodate the needs of international students. 

The staff working at counseling and psychological support and activities consider their services successful because they have been continually improved and expanded since 2010. Practices they consider crucial in achieving success are “professionalism, competence of the staff, continuous methodological supervision, weekly team meetings, monitoring and evaluation”.

The main motivation for starting the service was to respond to the growing needs and demands from the student body – both were recognized as an issue that needed to be addressed. Originally, the purpose of the service was twofold. Firstly, to provide support and counseling to students in need, and secondly to implement professional interventions aiming at other aspects of university inclusivity that would improve student well-being more generally. Since the service was initiated by academic staff, notably faculty in social psychology, the purpose of the program was informed by professional and academic knowledge. In this respect, the purpose was to improve student experiences and enable them to integrate and adapt with fewer difficulties, mainly by giving them support and tools to effectively manage emotions arising in their social context and to increase their psychosocial resources. The initial motivation and purpose did not revolve around specific equity group needs but were oriented at the general student body. Targeting equity groups was included later in the service structure, as well as targeting university staff as service users. The crucial factor for institutional leadership in deciding to establish the service was a recognition of increasing challenges to student well-being. The negative aspect of not having these services developed came to light due to events where services like this were demanded but were not available.
In some cases, the service is governed by national policy but the importance of an external policy framework for the service comes from local and regional authorities, mainly because these authorities (and their governing bodies) are also financially supporting the service. Diversity, inclusion and equality are explicitly mentioned both in the service’s organizational materials and policy material of the university – strategies, policies and action plans.
The team is made of six professionals in the field of psychosocial support. One member (a University professor) acts as the head of the team. Other staff members include a psychologist or psychotherapist for supervision activities, one psychologist or psychotherapist for evaluation and monitoring activities, two psychologists and/or psychotherapists for counseling; one psychologist for research purposes and one psychiatrist for consultation and/or professional intervention purposes. Most decisions regarding programme design and activities are made within the team and, if needed, external consultations. Within the team, the head of the service has the most impact on service design, and externally, University bodies and ERSU.
The service is funded by the Regional Agency for the Right to Study of Sassari, Autonomous Region of Sardinia, and the University of Sassari. This line of funding is crucial in securing further sustainability of the service. The service is not yet sustainable long term as funding remains to be a significant obstacle in securing the sustainability of the service. The main challenges in the process of the service becoming a successful one were related to financial support. The service had difficulties in raising funds and had to deal with discontinuity in funds which led to periods of unpaid work. This has been especially challenging considering the service had to develop a network of experts in psychology, psychotherapy, and psychiatry external to the university which are used for referrals.
The evaluation process of the service is based on an annual users’ satisfaction questionnaire that focuses on the general degree of satisfaction with the service, satisfaction with access to the service, information materials, schedules, the degree to which the service understands the users’ needs and estimation of intervention effectiveness. Results are disseminated to funding bodies while the staff also publishes journal articles based on some of the results gathered.

Academic Gudiance and Psychological Support

Sassari, Italy