University. The establishment of higher education and learning. When you enter it for the first time, you’re struck by the academic opulence of the Victorian buildings mixed with the Brutalism of modernist architecture, by the hundreds of intensely cerebral professors and lecturers flying in amongst yet greater swathes of scholarly compatriots. It is the embodiment of the Enlightenment, of Reasoning, and the home of future thought and action. Well, in actual fact, not many students seem to think so.
A recent survey found that a majority (52%) of those, from either a Private or State school education, found the essential tenet of university – teaching and expanding horizons – to be less effective than at their schools. In fact, of the Private school pupils, 61% felt that their schools did a better job of inspiring them than university.
…students may begin to feel that they deserve a 1:1…
The areas most to blame were the distance felt between lecturers and students, the lack of real feedback on assignments and progress, and the continual cutting of departmental budgets, usually leading to homogenisation of departments and facilities: UCL, for example, has dumped all of its language departments into one super department against great student protest.
All of this comes at a time when education is, more and more, seen as a purchase by students; it is something that students really want value for money for as they’re parting with £3,000. Evidently, such an approach will become even more commonplace when the fees rise to £9,000. By increasing it to such a level, students may begin to feel that they deserve a 1:1 even without having to turn up to a lesson: £27,000 does feel like quite a bribe, especially in comparison to those who paid less than 5% of this no more than two decades ago.
This is a double blow for staff…
Then again, what does this really tell us? University budgets have grown phenomenally in size over the last 17 years, but so, too, have university places, and the demands on lecturers and tutors. Now budgets have been slashed and the first thing to go are more exotic courses cooked up by lecturers bored with normal syllabus. This is a double blow for staff as the traditional courses they thought they’d brought into the 21st century with new alternatives are now the only option for them to teach, which means the only escape from a rather teacher-like existence is their private research away from students.
This is bad for lecturers, perhaps, having to go back the traditional degrees, but the slashing of budgets and increase in fees should nullify the apathy that some students feel from their lecturers. Like in State schools, the increase in students has meant it has been near impossible for lecturers to get to know all their students. If less students attend university, because they are really thinking about whether it is for them, it will resolve this problem, and make university far more communal. It will also stop the current trend of a degree meaning less as more seek to have one.
…the lack of student/staff interaction and overall teaching.
Perhaps it’s a drastic thing to say, but the increase in fees could save universities from becoming grand secondary schools and a social experience not to be missed. The main problem that has come out of the student survey has been the lack of student/staff interaction and overall teaching. It’s time to be rid of the idea that university is for everyone by saying, clearly, that a place for all is wrong, and that gaining a job through experience or an apprenticeship is just as valid an existence.
Image courtesy of Oxford University