Why University?

Over the past few weeks, I have been busy preparing teaching materials for the upcoming semester. I’ve been thinking carefully about the things that will engage students, and that will develop and consolidate their understanding of Psychology. Yesterday I spent a day on a teaching course, led by @georgeroberts and @ncurrant, among others. The course was outlined, and we discussed, in groups, aspects of student learning, in theory and in practice.

The session took place on Brookes’ Headington Hill campus, against the backdrop of this year’s Freshers’ Fair (where student societies and local companies try to drum up as much student support as possible via freebies). Even at 9.30 in the morning, before it was officially due to begin, the event was buzzing, and the university was alive with students.

Photo' taken from https://www.facebook.com/BrookesUnion

Photo’ taken from https://www.facebook.com/BrookesUnion – check the page out 🙂

This got me thinking. Something very strange happens when I go into sixth forms to give the ‘what’s university like?’ talk. I ask school-leavers why they want to go to university. They give me all kinds of answer, from independent living, to friends for life, to getting a better job at the end. Last on the list is studying in a given discipline. Once it wasn’t mentioned until I brought it up.

The UK-based National Student Survey has 22 mandatory questions on students’ experiences of their course. Universities can choose to add questions about welfare facilities, and careers, and social events, and to the extent that these questions are asked, the results aren’t made public. Yet these are the things that seem to matter most to students, and to prospective students. So I’m left wondering why the national student survey doesn’t reflect this: why it is course-focused.

I’m a Teaching Fellow. My role is to make the students’ experience of their course as positive and fulfilling as possible – and I put a lot of effort into the nuances of this. Yet I find that students’ engagement with their learning is never as enthusiastic as their engagement with the freshers’ fair. Does it have to be? Maybe not. Maybe what I see is actually only true for school leavers. But it seems that the course they choose to study is only a small part of what a lot of students are looking for, and engaging with, in a university.

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One thought on “Why University?

  1. You are right, Dr Jones, that many students have boundless enthusiasm for everything but their course. There are the exceptions (I consider myself one). I am not entirely sure that most students understand what university really is. World-class minds and ground-breaking ideas that can change their view and their world, offered without question to those that seek it. For some, it’s a 3-yr ‘dossing and drinking’ extravaganza. And that is a real shame.

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