Are universities doing enough for their students?
As university tuition and maintenance fees seem set to keep rising, we have to start asking whether universities are really advising and supporting their students as much as they should be.
It’s great that many course syllabuses are becoming more heavily careers-oriented.
Work placement modules are more popular, usually involving a ten week contract with a company within your target industry. These are providing students with connections in their fields and relevant skills that they wouldn’t get sitting in a lecture theatre.
However, according to a study by Totaljobs, 40% of recent graduates are still job searching six months after the end of their course. The job market is set to deteriorate even further if or when article 50 is triggered – questions over funding mean Brexit could leave even more graduates unemployed.
There is a lot more that universities could be doing to help students prepare for this incredibly competitive climate. While university careers services help students with writing CVs, cover letters and preparing for interviews, these departments are often under advertised and don’t have the resources or time to deal with every student.
It’s come out in recent years just how much of a problem mental illness is in UK universities. According to YouGov, nearly 1 in 4 students report problems with mental health while completing their studies. Depression and anxiety are the most common issues.
Despite this, only 1 in 5 students had made use of their university’s mental health services, and only 1 in 9 had seen a counsellor.
The Higher Education Policy Institute says that uni mental health services need triple the funding that they are getting in order to deal with the rise in people seeking treatment. While each patient responds best to a different approach, those who do decide to seek counselling should not be faced with a 2 month waiting list at such a vulnerable time.
But more attention also needs to be focused on encouraging students of all backgrounds and identities to speak out and ask for help.
An unnamed Downing Street official accidentally let a photographer snap a document by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about university standards. It revealed what most students knew all too well: the “quality and intensity of teaching” at even some of the top UK unis doesn’t merit the £9k they’re demanding.
For the average arts, humanities or social science student, an average timetable of nine contact hours per week means that every lecture or seminar they attend technically costs them over £50. Most of these involve a lecturer reading from a powerpoint or script for an hour, then rushing off to avoid answering questions.
This means that students doing essay subjects as their degree will spend the vast majority of the recommended 40 study hours per week working independently in the library or online.
A report by Which? called A Degree Of Value found that around half of the 4,500 students they surveyed thought that their degree wasn’t challenging enough, and a quarter said that they got a decent overall grade despite poor attendance and doing little independent work.
For students who face forty years of debt just for going to university, more clearly needs to be done to make the experience as beneficial as possible and to make this decision pay off in the long run.