Old-style student retention

September 23, 2005

Life may be tough for modern university students, but at least they are not locked in their campuses at night to stop them roaming the streets or thrashed if they fail to memorise lectures.

Yet, according to historical records uncovered as part of Aberdeen University's 500th anniversary of the first students arriving at King's College, this was the norm in the early 16th century.

The routine for Aberdeen's medieval students has been brought to light by Colin McLaren, the university's former librarian, and Jennifer Carter, general editor of the series Quincentennial Studies in the History of the University of Aberdeen.

Students were beaten for leaving the campus without permission and were allowed to speak to one another only in Latin and French, not Scots.

Profane language and vulgar songs were banned.

As if this were not harsh enough, students had no holidays and their classes - running, on average, to some 50 hours a week - began at 6am sharp.

But some 16th-century academic concerns sound remarkably modern. Students had to develop transferable skills in writing and public speaking.

Moreover, peer support was obviously considered crucial, since if students worked in pairs and one failed a test, both of them were punished.

Fiona Christie, a recent Aberdeen graduate in English literature, said she was grateful that her earliest lecture started at 10am. She combines a four-day working week with 20 hours of study.

She deplored the medieval ban on student nightlife. "I went out loads when I was an undergraduate. I don't think we were riotous at all - it was good-natured."

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