The pressure is on. As academics reveal the extent of their overwhelming obligations, and a study shows that successful academics must possess a “superhero” ability to multitask, it’s clear that all areas of academics’ personal and professional life suffer under this pressure.
So what of their students, who rely on their lecturers and, fairly or not, expect attention and support, irrespective of the other jobs that their teachers are managing?
Students and their advocates do, at least, recognise the increasing pressure on academics. Here, without attributing much blame, they wonder: Do lecturers have enough time for their students?
‘A lack of feedback is not so much the lecturers’ personal fault but rather an implicit effect of too many tasks the lecturer has to fulfil besides teaching’
What I mostly experience is guilt on the part of my lecturers. Many of them would love to provide in-depth feedback on essays and questions from students, but thanks to the academic and bureaucratic treadmill, this wish is impossible to fulfil. Often enough, a lack of feedback is not so much the lecturers’ personal fault but rather an implicit effect of too many tasks the lecturer has to fulfil besides teaching.
Felix Simon, 23, is a journalist and student. He is currently finishing his BA in film and media studies and English studies at Goethe University Frankfurt.
‘The modules were always directly relevant to tutors’ research, so for them I think it was all interlinked as a great discussion in class was actually helping them get a new perspective on their research’
I think that academics, particularly my tutors, all work very hard on their research and their books, but I never felt that that affected the tutoring and I never once felt that I was being neglected. I can’t fault Loughborough at all. You’d always get a response to your email within a few minutes, and there was always time if you wanted to meet up with an academic to discuss an idea. The modules were always directly relevant to tutors’ research, so for them I think it was all interlinked as a great discussion in class was actually helping them get a new perspective on their research.
However, with that said, I do worry that my experience was the exception rather than the rule. I know a lot of students at other universities who tell of unmarked essays, few office hours. Some academics have told me of horrible experiences at other universities as well, where profit comes first rather than the student experience or encouraging and funding great research because it contributes to the public good rather than simply just raising the profile of the university.
Harry Cunningham recently graduated with a degree in English from Loughborough University and hopes to embark on an MA in history next year.
‘It’s outstanding the number of hours they put into their work’
In my experience, yes: I do believe that lecturers have enough time for their students. On my course, you can email a lecturer at almost any point during the day and you’ll get a reply, always within 24 hours. If you want a meeting, you’ll definitely get one within that week. My lecturers always go above and beyond to help us in the best way possible – and they’ll always go above and beyond to provide us with resources, contacts and much more.
However, saying that, we are always aware of how much they have to do outside lectures. Our lecturers continuously have to write reports, go to meetings (some are not even in the city so they are travelling much further), mark assignments and so on. We have our deadlines to meet, and they have a lot of their own. Lectures have to do a lot behind the scenes, as well as teaching other classes. It’s outstanding the number of hours they put into their work. I do believe that, slowly and surely, lecturers are having more and more pressure put on them. They have to ensure their students are meeting certain levels, they have to achieve quotas for a term or a year and if they don’t, it reflects badly on them. They have to teach us to a particular standard so that they can prove we are learning from them, and the list goes on. I personally believe that as there is more pressure on lecturers to achieve outside the lecture hall, it’s going to start to affect what they achieve in the lecture hall.
‘Do university lecturers have enough time for anything?’
Do university lecturers have enough time for their students? With a heavy workload and pressure to publish, I am not surprised to learn of a rising mental health crisis in academia over recent years. This begs the question: do university lecturers have enough time for anything?
If tutors are to avoid a downward spiral, the choice often has to be one or the other: teaching or research? For many, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to fulfil all their contractual duties to an excellent standard. But if this is the case, what of the effect on students for those who choose to focus on their publications? How will the next generation be inspired if their mentors cannot make adequate time for their heftily priced higher education? It is, after all, the students who are paying their salaries.
And there is no hiding for universities that wish for their academics to spend more time churning out papers. Concerned Ucas applicants can now even check their expected teaching hours using an online university comparison tool.
Thus for the sake of a university’s reputation and future funding from enrolment, I believe that it has to be a balancing act of getting students the contact hours they need, while offering staff a fair contract that does not make them feel strained. The only question remaining is who will crack first: overworked lecturers or underwhelmed students?
Naomi Lofts is the managing director of Studential, dedicated to helping students on their academic journey.