Fees blamed for bad behaviour

September 14, 2007

They are incidents more associated with the classroom than the lecture hall, but it seems that the rudeness, incivility and even violence that occurs in schools is creeping into universities.

Although Deborah Lee, the author of National Student Conduct Survey, makes it clear that the study was not meant to be representative of everyone in higher education, it nevertheless paints an alarming picture of the extent to which university staff have to deal with student misbehaviour.

The project was broken down into two surveys - a short one for people to record experiences with students and how they felt about them and a longer one to record incidents in detail. What emerged from the longer survey was that a significant minority of respondents, 11 per cent, experienced an incident with a student every day. The incidents ranged from violence, public humiliation and rudeness to accusations of unfairness and unprofessionalism.

Although major incidents such as violence are rare, it is clear there has been an increase in "low-level" poor behaviour, such as complaining that an e'mail sent after midnight was not responded to immediately.

Academics complain that students appear to feel that paying fees entitles them to achieve a certain level of grade. "I paid my fees so how come I haven't got any credits," one student is reported to have said.

A fifth of academics who responded to the longer survey said they experienced unreasonable expectations or demands and 14 per cent had been accused of unfairness or unprofessional conduct.

The misbehaviour also includes what would appear to be acts from a rebellious teenager, such as telling administrative staff to get out of the way and refusing to let them pass on the stairs.

But although two thirds of staff went to their line manager to voice a complaint, only half said they were satisfied with the way it had been handled, and a quarter were satisfied with the outcome of formal complaints.

Malcolm Keight, director of higher education for the University and College Union, said: "The policy of encouraging higher education to see itself as a traded commodity is leading to a loss of the sense of academic community.

"A fee-paying mentality can detract from the need to apply oneself to academic achievement, and no doubt some students like to believe that they are paying for a qualification rather than an opportunity to work for one.

"To some extent the report reflects trends in wider society, but if universities are being undermined in their role of contributing to the development of aware and caring citizens, then policymakers should rethink what their policies are doing to the notion of community in higher education."

Susan Rutherford, chair of the Universities Personnel Association and director of human resources at Liverpool University, said: "Universities and colleges take the wellbeing of their staff very seriously, and we hope this study will complement the ongoing work of human resources leaders in implementing best practice to minimise risks to staff."

Please login or register to read this article

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments