Drastic change and debts may prove discouraging

August 31, 2007

Hannah Osunsina believes black students' relatively poor degree performance reflects an ambivalent attitude to university.

Ms Osunsina, who is about to enter her second year in law at Bedfordshire University, said: "A lot of black students didn't want to go to university initially; they feel they've been forced into it, so they don't give 100 per cent. They give up before they've even tried."

The 20-year-old from Peckham, South London, explained: "Growing up as the children of immigrants, we're told that we must get an education, that we need that tool to get somewhere in life. The pressure can have a negative effect: some people can't deal with it, or they rebel against it."

Parents' beliefs about the advantages of higher education often contrasts with students' perceptions. "We hear about people who have got a degree and they're not earning much. There's all this debt and aggro and what do you get for it? It's hard to get a job afterwards." Ms Osunsina said.

University lecturers reinforce this negative perception: "They've got three degrees and they're just lecturers."

Ms Osunsina said she was "not into the idea of university" at first. But her school gave her encouragement with a trip to Sussex University. "I realised university could be enjoyable as well as academic."

While she enjoyed both the independence that her first year at Bedfordshire brought her and the self-directed learning, university life had its downsides. "It's a big jump from A levels, where your teachers are coaching you, to being on your own. It's a drastic change, and the university doesn't ease you into it. There's not much support or preparation."

As a result, she said, a lot of her peers are retaking their first year. "Some people are so excited about being on their own that they get carried away and lose sense of why they're there," she said.

If tutors were able to show more interest in individual students' progress, it might have a beneficial effect, she suggested. "If at the end of term, students were given a review of their commitment, it would let them know that somebody was watching them and encourage them to buck up."

melanie.newman@thes.co.uk

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