You’ve been asked by a friend or a student if you can act as a ‘friend’ during a University meeting or panel – but what does this mean? We’ve shared our top tips to help you be as supportive and prepared as possible.

Be a Confidante


Firstly, thank you for creating a safe space where someone can reach out to you for support. It shows that you are trusted and that people can confide in you.

Depending on the circumstances, someone may share information that’s difficult to understand or shocking to hear.

Your role is to offer support in a positive and non-judgemental way, try to focus on the person and not their actions.

Set Boundaries and Keep Up Your Self-Care

It’s important to ask yourself if you are in a place where you will be able to offer support, or if you need to set a boundary.

Setting boundaries is a helpful tool to
manage the support you can give – what is out of your comfort zone? When can you speak to the student/your friend?

  • For example, if you can’t commit to a lengthy phone call, say “Shall we have a debrief after the panel for 5 minutes?” or;
  • If you are asked about something you are not comfortable talking about, say “I want to be as helpful as possible, but I think Student Support and Wellbeing team can give you some tailored support which I’m not able to give. Shall we look at how to book an appointment with them?”

Going to panels can be stressful for the student involved and it can be a challenging time, so ask, “How can I help?” and listen to what they need from you.

If they are asking something of you which you aren’t comfortable with, don’t feel pressured to say yes – sometimes the biggest act of self-care is saying ‘no’ or signposting someone to a more appropriate team. That person’s needs are valid, but it’s up to you to decide if you are able and willing to offer them help.

Ask for Help if you are Worried about Someone

If you are concerned about a student (whether you are a student or staff), the important next step is to get help.

You can use the Student of Concern form through UCL Student Support and Wellbeing (SSW), and they will decide how best to support the student.

SSW won’t be able to take action if the student’s details are not in the form. If a student has told you that they in immediate danger of hurting themselves or others, phone 999 or take them to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department in the nearest hospital.

Read Up

You will find it helpful to read through any documents relating to the meeting or panel.

Your role is not to answer questions on behalf of a student, but being aware why the meeting is happening in the first place can help you prepare.

Sometimes Advocacy is just being a Good Friend


Being a good friend can influence how a person deals with their experiences. You do not need to solve or fix the problem, but you can listen and say ‘how can I help?’ or offer to help them with something specific, like finding the contact details for a University team.

Try offering validation rather than giving advice like “I can hear that this made you feel (use their words).”

You can help the student feel less alone during their experiences, and if all you can offer is to give someone space to talk about what is happening and how they’re feeling, you’re still helping so much!

Panel Support

All students involved in formal UCL procedures (such as the Academic Misconduct procedure) have the right to bring a ‘friend’ to any meeting or hearing.
A ‘friend’ must be a member of staff at UCL, Students’ Union Advisor, or a student currently registered at UCL.

The role of a friend is to provide moral support. You don’t need to act in any legal capacity and you are not expected to represent the student. Being a ‘friend’ is a largely silent role, but here are some practical things you can do during a panel or meeting:

  • If the panel is over Microsoft Teams, you could have a separate chat open with them to send supportive messages.
  • Watch the student’s body language. If the student is showing signs of distress (this might come across as being upset or angry), you or the student involved can ask the panel for a short break. The Chair of the Panel should also be checking the progress of the panel/meeting and may also request a break.
  • Remind the student to have water, tissues, and any panel/meeting documents to hand. It is better to have these things ready and nearby just in case.
  • Listen to the questions being asked and the answers the student gives. Do you think the student understands the question? You may know the student well and notice if they have understood what they’re being asked to explain – don’t be afraid to step in and ask to repeat or rephrase the question.
  • If you don’t feel confident asking this during a virtual panel, you can type this into the panel chat or use the 'raise your hand' feature on Microsoft Teams.
  • If you are free, offer to meet the student before and/or after the panel or meeting. It can be helpful to give the student space to explore how they are feeling, ask “how are you feeling at the moment?” and whether they have any simple last-minute questions. Remind them that you will be there whatever the outcome and where they can get specialist wellbeing support, such as UCL’s Student Support and Wellbeing team