You may scoff, but our students won't

July 28, 2011

Although it may seem presumptuous of one of those cursorily dismissed "poorer universities and colleges" to take issue with both Simon Blackburn and John Stuart Mill in one letter, might I suggest that the former's response to the White Paper ("Pucker up, piglets", 7 July) exhibits revealing attitudes towards students.

Students generally have an under-developed sense of their own entitlements when it comes to higher education at university. That may change. In our college (one apparently "induced" into providing "cheaper courses") we assume that the people we work for are our students (both those in further and those in higher education), that they effectively pay our wages, that they are generally intelligent and ambitious young people who know what they want, and that they rarely respond well to being patronised or mocked by the people who are working for them. We and our students (fee-paying or other) have high expectations of each other and do not find anything unusual in the phrase "the student experience". Most doctors can now use the phrase "the patient experience" without blushing or scoffing. This is progress. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before academics and philosophers, better placed than most to understand the limits of such language anyway, take the same bold step.

The style and content of much of Blackburn's piece reveal views that are at odds not only with ours but with those of thousands of students coming to an understanding of what £,000 should purchase. Our views are informed by the aspirations of more than 5,000 16- to 19-year-olds, some 1,500 of whom apply to higher education each year. A few go to the University of Cambridge to read subjects such as philosophy; we are delighted when they do. Many more go elsewhere and follow a vocational degree such as medicine, law, accounting or golfing studies, and increasing numbers choose to stay with us.

I think ours is a more respectful and accurate view of students, and one reinforced by their remarks published alongside that article. Here, in a dignified counterpoint to Blackburn's words, students speak for themselves.

David Walrond, Principal, Truro and Penwith College

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