Inspired by a post from WONKHE http://www.wonkhe.com/2013/08/19/what-is-the-student-experience/ wonkhe (pronounced wonky) is a blog for higher education wonks, those who work in the HE sector and anyone else interested in higher education policy, culture and politics.
Unfortunately I don’t have any definitions of my own to offer but I found this an interesting read seeing as I work in education and student experience and having been through University myself. I feel as though I have a well formed (not necessarily FULLY formed or correct) opinion on University as an option post A level. I have interest in this generally but also about the concept of students being able to actively influence their university courses.
This will make me sound super cynical here but having read quite a lot on student experience and student engagement recently, it seems to me that despite the best efforts of some universities, students will never truly have a proper stake in their higher education. I only refer to the UK, as I have little knowledge of systems elsewhere.
I think Student experience begins upon application and goes on through to when they become alumni. Students are predominantly seen as “customers” even though the bulk of them get loans to pay for university which they end up paying back at the end. Despite often being referred to as customers many of them do not properly consider the financial risk they are entering into.
Upon entry to a university students can join student-staff groups and get involved in a variety of ways, voicing their concerns about their course content etc, some of the extra keen beans even go for sabbatical positions to try and represent the student voice. However the notion remains that no student or group of students would ever threaten to leave their institution if certain “demands” weren’t met.
Perhaps dropping out is a bit radical but you wouldn’t find entire classes empty because they didn’t deem the lecturer good enough. Or at least I have yet to see or hear about anything of that nature. I think that the short falls of the idea of autonomy or influence within ones university education fall into 2 main categories; lack of knowledge of the proactive nature of university learning and lack of incentive to contribute in the limited means available to them or lack of a sense of autonomy.
Firstly, I believe that a lot of the people who have just passed their A levels or who are slaving away over their ucas application don’t necessarily know what they are getting themselves in for with the course they are going for. Some of them have a vague idea of what university is and what it will be like but the majority of them get sucked into the lifestyle and social life side of things and don’t properly consider the course content, learning outcomes and learning styles (University is NOTHING like school!) You don’t have people chasing you, you have to chase them. Whats more your first year might not count and might be basic to you but you need to pass it in order to be level knowledge-wise with your peers.
I’m not saying I considered things properly either! In my first year I discovered to my dismay that my Sociology course contained maths (statistics) I would have to pass modules (exams and assignments) in maths. I hate maths, I can’t do maths. So I panicked and stumbled through them (got a 2:1 in those modules though).
In addition to this I had no clue about having to reference in an essay finding out to my horror, the day of hand in of my first piece of work, that I had been doing it wrong! And I had to frantically put a bibliography together.
As well as this I ended up wanting to change my course to dual honors (sociology and politics) to discover it was too late and that I would have to teach myself two core modules, which if I failed, would mean I would have to start over. No thanks. If I’d done my research properly I wouldn’t have been in any of those positions.
Secondly, In my experience once enrolled, students don’t tend to be forthcoming with remarks about their course etc because they don’t see the value or consequence of their comments. That’s not to say that they don’t have anything to contribute – they definitely do! (See the rise of @suchandsuchuniversityproblems profiles on twitter and facebook) But perhaps the reason for this is due to the bureaucratic nature of some universities? Or a lack of transparency in certain procedures (take marking and return of feedback for instance) It is hard to action anything of direct significance to students especially with universities in this country being pressured and squeezed as they are. It is important that they are kept informed as far as possible. Academics/faculty staff are as accountable (or completely not accountable) as students are in some cases which doesn’t make for an enriching university education.
I do have further ideas, but they are slightly controversial…
Soooo…I’m the one spouting all of this, so where are the answers/solutions? Unfortunately I don’t posses many without running the risk of sounding out of line/like I am above my station/like I think I know it all (that’s me saying that, not pressure from anyone else). But I think it would take drastic action in order to sway universities to make any substantial changes to courses… or maybe they’re all doing a great job as it is?? The fact students, as customers, have no power over the finances they gain through student loans companies means they have no significant means of shaking things up. Or maybe lack of background research means they simply don’t know what is good for them? Like with many topics I can’t reach a solid conclusion but let me know what you think…