Hefce can save us

February 19, 2009

How heartening to finally have an acknowledgement of the value of our efforts to teach atypical students at London Metropolitan University and the difficulties we face doing so. How disappointing that this support has come only from the editorial of the Times Higher Education (Leader, 5 February) and there is no sign of such a spirited defence from our own management.

Teaching atypical students requires atypical methods. The Higher Education Funding Council for England and this Government are guilty of not recognising the difficulties we face and the way that such students sometimes behave differently to traditional students. Our students may often choose not to take an assessment at the scheduled time.

There can be many reasons for this. Sometimes it is tactical: trying to spread assessments over a longer period of time to increase the opportunities for revision. Sometimes the reason can be tragic. I have had students with multiple cancers in my office; students who have lost loved ones and have to travel back to Bangladesh with the body for the funeral; and distraught students who are being forced into an unwanted marriage by their parents.

I have invigilated exams where a single mother has had to leave the exam room to phone someone to fetch her child from school. In her extremely busy life trying to cope with being a single mother, working and studying at the same time, she forgot to make arrangements.

These are all examples from former students and cover only some of the difficulties our students face in trying to study alongside what can be very complicated lives. In addition, they have had to struggle with their earlier schooling for similar reasons. It is a miracle that some of them ever make it to university.

Once they are at London Met, they are deserving of all the support we can give them. But that support comes at a price - a price this Government is not willing to pay.

Hefce claims that paying universities for each module a student completes rather than only if they complete a full academic year will not make much difference to how much the university is paid. I can assure Hefce that, in the case of London Met, it would make an enormous difference. Hefce could start by using that payment method from this academic year. That would be a creative way of saving a university that is dedicated to widening access.

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