Letter: Our young coddled eggheads (2)

March 30, 2001

Since I returned to work at a university campus ten years ago, I have been astonished to witness the normalisation of mother-and-child open days.

It is parents rather than potential students who are the consumers of league tables, who order prospectuses, fill in application forms and orchestrate the clearance scramble if it occurs while their darlings holiday abroad. No wonder dropout rates are rising.

In the 1960s, when most of us were first-generation undergraduates and minors until 21, my parents' role was restricted to withholding permission for me to take up a university place (what was the point - especially for a girl?).

But my college knew all about UCCA and where to apply for a maintenance grant, my boyfriend gave me lifts to interviews, and, through the legal concept of in loco parentis , the universities kept parents at bay. Mine visited once in my fresher days and once to attend the graduation ceremony. This was not atypical. Friends came up and went down using subsidised train travel: they were not delivered and collected by parents.

Many of the changes Frank Furedi describes may be the outcome of post-Robbins expansion, that is, the large numbers of my generation who know the system and are ready to work it in favour of their offspring. But other factors are at work. For those, the dependency culture can begin in primary school, where the allocation of homework is not uncommon. This is followed by project work in secondary school. When I worked for Pilkington Glass, we had schoolpacks ready for parents who phoned for information for their child's school project.

The experience of schooling extends into universities, for the independence of reading for a degree has in most been replaced by a process of continuous marked assignments. Since these marks determine the degree outcome, the dependency culture drifts onto the borders of plagiarism.

Language also reflects the blurring of that transition from school to university, for there are no longer pupils and undergraduates: we are all students now.

Gill Rowley Employment Studies Research Unit University of the West of England.

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