Letter: 'Lazy student' label wears thin

October 5, 2001

When Stephen Perrin of Liverpool Hope complained about giving mini-lectures in seminars because students were not prepared (Teaching, THES , September 21), your Agony Aunt was naive to say that students "refuse to do anything for which they do not receive a grade".

It is too easy to accuse students of laziness without exploring the circumstances. The average student debt on graduation is about £10,000, so for many students working at least part time is necessary. With colleges quick to exclude students for non-payment, employment often takes priority when managing time and paying for an education becomes more important than participating.

The "average student" is no longer the silver-spooned 18-year-old with generous parental support, but a mature student juggling home, family, work and study. This often creates a conflict of interest over time management, resulting in poor preparation for seminars and ultimately a lower final grade.

We are in danger of recreating a two-tier system, with those who have money getting good grades and good employment, while those who work their way through college fall by the wayside. The Mature Students' Union is concerned about the business-not-benefit mentality of many colleges and universities and the reluctance to acknowledge the needs of the modern student.

When family responsibilities led one parent to request a transfer between seminar sessions, a senior lecturer at one London university said that the university was not run for the benefit of students. The request was denied.

Colleges and universities must realise that their first concern has to be the student. That includes recognising the changes in student requirements now that we no longer have adequate financial support. Tutors need to be more aware of the pressures on students and their families and be flexible in their approach.

If that means giving mini-lectures at the start of a seminar for students who were unable to prepare since the last lecture or who were not even able to attend the lecture, so be it.

Students deserve better treatment in the changing education system.

Alan J. Coleman
National president
Mature Students' Union

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