Support for students needs to be less formal and more empathetic

For the vast majority, the transition between school and higher education is challenging. The leap from a ‘small pond’ to larger waters, and the change between spoon-fed and independent learning, is something of a sharp adjustment.

There is a certain beauty in the idea that Edinburgh is what you make of it. If you put in the effort to attend office hours, speak to Student Support Officers (SSOs) and check-in with university counsellors, you will undoubtedly reap the benefits of the support available. But this is an ideology, with the keystone being personal motivation. Those with a less forward attitude are unlikely to have the same pastoral care. With fees as they are, should the university be doing what it can to ensure all students receive equal levels of support, even if this means adopting personalised, more targeted approaches?

Earlier this week I found myself in the Go Abroad office hoping to discuss my offer to study in Korea next year. Having been ignored by e-mail, phone and appointment I was determined to receive answers to my questions.

Studying overseas is something I had wanted to do since applying to university, yet I had been given a location which did not offer my degree and was far away from the buzzing Korean cities I had envisioned. Admittedly I had made a mistake on my application form but, nevertheless, I was met with a non negotiable answer: I could either study where I had been allocated, or I would stay in Edinburgh. Receiving another, better-suited offer was out of the question – even if it were more appropriate to my academic circumstances.

My experience with this office left me feeling like a mere figure in an annual quota. As far as they were concerned I had been allocated a place and therefore their job was finished. From my perspective however, I was potentially moving to another continent, with no supporting network in sight, wishing for a little more consideration.

This month also saw the theft of my friends’ laptops when their flat was burgled. They were denied essay extensions based on guidelines, which state the “failure, loss or theft of […] a computer” is insufficient. Although extensions can be granted on the grounds of a “crime […] likely to have significant emotional impact”, this example was evidently not distressing enough.

With an institution as large and complex as the University of Edinburgh, it is inevitable that some individuals will fall between the cracks. When there are so many extension requests to process I can understand why events become dehumanised – yet once again masses of paperwork masks human empathy. I would argue that a check-box on an administrative form doesn’t quite address the distress of a robbery. It becomes less surprising, then, when Edinburgh ranks third worst in the UK for Student Satisfaction according to the Complete University Guide.

University isn’t just about lectures. For many it is the first time away from home and, as such, offers a great opportunity to grow individually. If university education is partially a lesson in life, then it is unreasonable for it to exist in the black-and-white defined parameters as a checklist: life is not like that. With Go Abroad I did not presume celebrity treatment but I would have appreciated a shred of human compassion: a furrowed eyebrow, for example, or even a smile.

The university is an integral part of its students’ lives, and its operational ethos must be suited to real-life. The question as to whether or not the university ‘should be’ emotionally involved with students is moot – it absolutely is. I just hope one day it recognises this in the circumstances when such support is – undoubtedly – needed.

 

Image: The Blue Diamond

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