I haven’t blogged for a long time now. It’s taking me a while to put posts together that I’m happy with as well as remaining current with things.
Working for a university, I have had my assumptions of what the “typical undergraduate student” is, challenged several times. Just when I think I ‘know’ students, something comes along and surprises me. With this in mind I find that what Times Higher ed reported this morning reaffirms what I have been saying about students all along.
Students expect ‘value for money’ and are very demanding of their institutions but don’t always take a proactive approach to their experience while studying at university.
Firstly, I would like to say that I do not uphold or work to support the notion that higher education should be for the privileged few, I don’t think it should be structure to keep ‘the plebs’ out and I fully support access to higher education schemes. I think anyone should be able to go to uni if they want to. But not everyone knows what they are getting in to. And in fact a plan b is often hard to come by especially with schools and colleges being pressured to send their pupils to uni.
Rather confusingly I’m am also not sure whether I agree that HE should be completely free. <
According to these Hepi-HEA findings students think their lecturers need to have teaching qualifications in order to lecture them. And while, as an undergraduate 2008-2011 I would have agreed with them (was very surprised to learn that lecturers didn’t have at least a PGCE or similar) there are so many different types of lectures and lecturers and someone who means well may not necessarily deliver a great lecture for a variety of reasons. Equally just because someone has a teaching qualification doesn’t mean they will deliver amazing, inspiring lectures. A colleague of mine would say that students are only satisfied if they get the education they want, but that might not mean they are getting the education they need. And a satisfied student may not be a challenged one.
At the risk of teaching grandmother to suck eggs, I think there are a couple of things here;
Firstly lecture styles may need to change or improve and that doesn’t necessarily mean more work for everyone. By having a dialogue with students you can find out so much. This doesn’t have to mean more surveys or focus groups, even by establishing casual conversations you can gain anecdotal feedback that can help tweak a module. Academics can seem intimidating but students are scarily similar to them sometimes. Also integrating technology or social media into the classroom can go a long way to enhancing student experience.
If you ask your students if, instead of fees, they would be willing to pay the equivalent for a night out/access to their local bar/club/venue (for arguments sake this could be £3-£5 outside of London) and they say no – then things should probably change or at least get an update.
BUT this relies on student engagement (oh if only we could ensure that!)
This leads me to my second point that students should play more of an active part in their educational experience. Use the established systems such as course rep or your student’s union and don’t just go to meetings, ask questions, raise issues. If students want something to happen they need to speak up, don’t expect someone to do it for you! If you’re passive in your time at uni it’ll happen to you not be shaped by you. The worst thing that could happen is that you’re told no which sometimes (believe it or not) is accompanied by a good reason.
A friend of mine pointed out on Facebook:
” (students) massively misunderstand the nature of what they are ‘buying’ A lot of them seemed to think that they are buying an entitlement to a 2:1 by just going to lectures. They don’t buy into the idea that they are actually ‘buying’ ACESS to the knowledge, not the knowledge itself. That they actually need to work for their education. This is not helped by governmental and media rhetoric that treats education like you order take out”
Another part of the findings the article draws attention to is that students don’t know where their fees are going. This again means students need to find this information out for themselves. Google, ask your faculty. But don’t just sit on the information. It’s important to understand it at least even if you don’t want to challenge or ask questions. I don’t think undergrads are given enough time to process or understand the loans they have taken on, which, with increasing fees is ever more important.
I think better knowledge and awareness and better student engagement will help drive positive change. Which I know will be too ‘hippy-diipy’ for some people reading this, will sound like absolute effort to a lot of students I work with and I won’t be the first person to have said it.
This would be made easier if students coming into the system had more help with the transition from School/College to uni. This can be achieved by Schools and Colleges providing support (although they aren’t exactly twiddling their thumbs for things to do) and by peer support/buddying schemes at universities. Uni shouldn’t be a choice that’s entered into lightly or because someone thinks they have to do it or that they have failed at life if they haven’t.
It would be good if there was also more in terms of alternatives to uni and I don’t just mean apprenticeships. I wish I had at least taken a year out before coming to earn some money and get some work experience, I think I would have spent my time at uni focusing on more important things (yeah thanks time hop for the absolute gems you keep reminding me of on facebook) and would have thrived a little better.
This is a very simplistic look at things, put together in a hurry on my lunch break. It MIGHT help if lecturers had more qualifications it MIGHT help if students knew what they were getting for their money. But students underestimate their ability to effect change or to educate one another.
No one wants to put themselves out there for fear of being judged. But most people only get uni once! So make it count! Even if it’s not linked with anything academic, do something to make a difference!