Discover more about Peer Support

This fantastic service has been helping our students for over 20 years. Find out more about it...

peer support
Two hands putting puzzle pieces together.

When did the Peer Support service begin?

Peer Support was first established in 2000, and is run by the EDI and Student Welfare team at the Open University Students Association. A huge amount of work went on behind the scenes to get the service up and running, from re-writing the Peer Supporter Handbook to fighting for Peer Supporters to have OU email addresses, and a lot of this work was carried out by Vice President Student Support, Alison Kingan.

Alison says: “As Vice President Student Support I have been so proud to oversee the Peer Support Service over the past decade, and help mould it into its current format. My responsibilities are boring, behind-the-scenes activities! However, it is the Supporters who make the Service what it is because they are the ones helping students. I believe the Peer Support Service is the best thing the Students Association offers because of the difference the fantastic Supporters make to students. As Peer Supporters operate behind pseudonyms, they are the unsung heroes of the Association.”


What is a Peer Supporter? 

Peer Supporters are current OU students who give their free time to help other students who might be struggling. They are empathetic, patient, good communicators and are non-judgemental. Each Peer Supporter is given a pseudonym when they first join, so that anonymity can remain between themselves and the students. Peer Supporters go through training, and once they take on the role they will be assigned an experienced Peer Support buddy who will act as a mentor throughout their first few months. There is always plenty of support from Peer Support admin, the VP Student Support and from fellow Peer Supporters. 


What do they do? 

Support can be offered in two ways. Firstly, it is given via email, Facebook Messenger and dedicated forums. Students who are struggling can ask questions, and whoever is on a Peer Support shift will help to answer them. These questions can cover a variety of issues, including time management, study skills, feeling isolated and even some mental health problems. However, while some of these queries will have simple, quick solutions, sometimes students will require a bit more support, so they will be partnered with a Peer Supporter for some one-to-one help.


Peer Supporters can offer a listening ear and are there for support, but they can’t give advice. When students need academic advice on their studies, Peer Supporters can signpost them to the correct department at The OU. These can be questions about assignments, referencing, special circumstances and referrals. When dealing with mental health issues, Peer Supporters can advise students on what help there is available.   


Why is the service needed? 

Studying anything and anywhere can be an overwhelming and anxiety-provoking experience, but throw into the mix the fact that you're studying on your own, without the close proximity to other students in lectures or classes, it can be even more daunting. Students can sometimes feel unmotivated, isolated and generally despondent. Juggling study, work and home life can sometimes be very difficult, so having someone to be there to listen to concerns, answer queries and generally be there to support you can be such a relief. A problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes.  


Why do they do it? 

Hearing from current Peer Supporters, it’s easy to see why they offer their free time to help others. Being an OU student, Peer Supporters know how it feels to study at a distance, to feel the tension of an impending TMA, to remain connected with fellow students, and to feel motivated each day to study. So being able to give support to other students who might feel the same way can be so rewarding. Having a student tell you that they received an excellent mark on their TMA, after they had really struggled with the time management side of things, and were on the verge of dropping out, is so satisfying and makes it all worthwhile. It’s also a great experience to have on a CV!