Students Demand More Support in Student Life Programs

With the prospective return to on-campus life in 2021, students have called for more variety and non-academic elements in the Student Life programs to better support first-year undergraduates.


With the prospective return to on-campus life in 2021, students have called for more variety and non-academic elements in the Student Life programs to better support first-year undergraduates.

The Melbourne Peer Mentor Program (MPMP) is one of the signature initiatives designed for first-year students, where new students are automatically assigned to a later-year mentor. Under their guidance, they participate in group activities, share experiences, and refer them to relevant support—giving mentees an insight into tertiary education at Melbourne.

Since Melbourne has been in and out of lockdown in the past two years, MPMP has become an exclusively online platform for new students to socialise. In 2021, over 7,500 first-year undergraduate students attended the MPMP.

However, limited mentoring sessions have been an obstacle to closer friendships. As such, some students feel the program is not living up to its potential. Pavani Athukorala, a former mentee and mentor for the Arts Faculty in 2020, explained how the MPMP helped her overcome loneliness during online studying.

“When the University was shut down, MPMP was the way to [meet] new people and [maintain] my social connections in isolation,” said Athukorala.

"I think the MPMP is a little unwieldy—too many groups, not enough mentees showing up to justify the number of mentors.”

Reflecting on the effectiveness of the MPMP, Pavani added that the University should “cut back and add more interesting additional events” as peer mentoring alone should not be a “be-all-end-all solution”.

Claire Bello, a third-year Bachelor of Science student, hopes the University runs joint events with other mentoring groups to help expand her social network.

“Some students may find it difficult to meet other students, especially if their mentoring group [was] not close,” said Bello.

“Introducing [new] activities can allow another pathway for students to interact with each other, especially since COVID-19 has made it harder to interact with others.”

Future first-year students will experience a different in-person teaching system from the University after a two-year online study in high school. International students leaving home for the first time especially have expressed their need to pick up different skills to address daily issues independently.

Stephanie Ma, a Year 11 student from Macau aspiring for the Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne, suggested that life skills training can increase quality of living in a new city. 

“[The Student Life Programs should include] life skills programs, such as cooking class, teaching students how to iron, or health aid class. The new elements… can improve students’ living standards and prevent them from injuries,” she said.

Although the University will optimise the booking system and information delivery to improve the MPMP, University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) President Sophie Nguyen urges the University to “listen to students” and work with UMSU to avoid confusing students about different mentoring programs run by the University and UMSU.

“Generally, we hope that the University works collaboratively with UMSU, understanding that a student-led organisation knows what issues impact student,” said Nguyen.

“It’s usually best for all students when we don’t have two programs clashing each other.”

In response to this, a University spokesperson insists the university already works with UMSU and peer leaders to deliver their Student Life Initiatives.

“The University continues to consult with students and UMSU on the Melbourne Peer Mentoring Program, which has seen a significant increase in participation. Each semester the University works with peer leaders and undertakes extensive student evaluations to inform refinements to the program structure and timing,” said the spokesperson.

To restore campus life for new students, the University will also run a series of on-campus events, including a pop-up roller skating rink, food trucks, open-air live music night light projection, and cultural celebrations. Uncertainty over the new COVID variant may discourage students from completing next semester in-person; however, Nguyen guarantees that clubs will run dual-delivery events to ensure all students are connected to campus life.

It remains to be seen whether these offshore students will have the same level of engagement in campus life as onshore students during these strange times.

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