Good discipline?

Universities’ disciplinary records under scrutiny.

Some entertaining reactions to a piece in the Guardian which reported that university students had paid over £0.5m in fines in a year:

Universities across the UK issued disciplinary and administrative fines totalling more than £550,000 to students last year.

Freedom of information requests from the Guardian have shown students were fined a total of £551,237.30 for offences such as smoking, drunkenness, and unauthorised parties in the last academic year. One institution said it used the money collected to fund the annual staff outing.

The results also revealed a number of peculiarities in the amounts fined for each offence. At Brunel University, while “assisting students with online tests for money” landed one student with a £250 fine, another was fined £50 for “hitting a member of staff”.

A student at Kent University was fined £50 for “insulting or violent behaviour including or involving racial, sexual or other abuse, harassment or threat of violence” – the same amount that many were charged for smoking offences.

Other offences that resulted in disciplinary action at universities included keeping chickens, leaving food on a window ledge, stealing loaves of bread and being prepared for a post-examination “trashing” of another student. Warwick University issued fines totalling £350 last year to students who were “drunk”, with no further reason given.

Some unusual offences here but perhaps nothing too remarkable for any readers of True Crime on Campus (apart perhaps from the keeping chickens offence, which is a new one to me).

Surprisingly unwelcome on campus

Surprisingly unwelcome on campus

Also, it’s perhaps a rather low sum given the large number of offences against regulations which will be committed by students every year. University do have rules and it is inevitable that many students will breach them at some point, often in halls of residence where they are learning for the first time about shared community responsibilities. The University of Nottingham’s Code of Discipline is outlined in its Ordinances and notes the reasons for the need for such legislation an students’ undertakings:

  1. Regulations on discipline are necessary because the University is a society in which good standards of communal life must be maintained, so that all its members may enjoy conditions enabling them to achieve their aims in joining it. Present students should also, in their behaviour, show proper concern for the reputation of the University and its effect on their contemporaries and their successors.

  2. The acceptance of an offer of admission by students is regarded as an undertaking to obey such University Ordinances and Regulations as are in force at any time during their period of study, and each student is required at registration to enter into such an undertaking.

So there can’t be any real room for misunderstandings there. Unless you decide to keep chickens of course.

A checkup call from the top

Valuable student support measure or a bit of a gesture?

In addition to spending what must be a huge amount over the past few months on advertising in the trade press, Boston University has undertaken another big investment, according to The Boston Globe, checking up on new students:

With new students wrapping up their first month on campus, school staff and administrators, including the provost and dean of students, spent the week calling all 4,300 first-year and transfer students, an ambitious gesture designed to make them feel at home.

“It’s about community,’’ said Kenneth Elmore, the university’s dean of students. “We want students to know we’re here to help.’’

Many administrators and researchers applaud the school for reaching out to students during the pivotal first semester, a time when they are at greater risk of falling behind and dropping out. Nationally, just 57 percent of full-time students at four-year colleges graduate within six years.

‘It’s about community. We want students to know we’re here to help. . . . We tell them we’re here to help them steer their course.’

“The most productive thing you can do is focus on the early experience,’’ said John N. Gardner, the head of a North Carolina institute that works with universities to improve student retention. “If they go unnoticed and unaddressed, academic problems can become severe.’’

I do think this is quite a good idea, particularly with the low completion rates referred to here. And it is undoubtedly the case that the early experience is particularly important. However, in isolation, one ‘phone call will not be sufficient and does need to be just a part of a larger student support package. Would it work in the UK? Or would it be seen as a bit an empty gesture?

True Crime on Campus §15: Freshen up!


For the new arrivals

The start of the new session and the arrival of thousands of eager freshers brings with it additional challenges for our ever-responsive and capable Security Team. All of the following are freshly reported incidents from the first week or so of the new academic year here at Nottingham. Let’s hope things calm down a little.

0858 Report that a Student had collapsed at Lenton and Wortley Hall – Security attended. The Student was on her feet when Security arrived. The Student stated that she had cut her finger and fainted.

0615 Report that a duvet was taken from a Students room while the Student was asleep in Cripps Hall. Security attended – the duvet was found on the Grass outside the Hall. The Student was advised not to sleep with his room door unlocked.

2105 Report of Graffiti on a Pool Table in Cripps Hall. Security attended, Hall Management to be informed.

2305 Report of people Camping on the Sports Field adjacent to the NCSL. Security attended – the area was checked no one was found.

2315 Report of a drunken Student attempting to enter Lenton and Wortley Hall. Security attended. On arrival the Student was spoken to she was found to have been resident in the Hall last year and was so drunk she had forgotten that she lived in the City this year. A Taxi was arranged to take her to her new address.

0845 Patrol Security found a male drunk and lying in the road at the top of Keighton Hill. Officers requested an Ambulance which took the male to the QMC. The male has no connection to the University.

0215 A Student living in Raleigh Park contacted the University Security Control room to say that she was trapped in the lift at Raleigh Park. University Security Staff were able to contact the call out Staff for Raleigh Park and get them to the Student. The Student was informed that help was on the way.

1030 Report of the theft of Lead from Sherwood Hall. Security attended, Police informed.

1000 Report of a Student feeling unwell in Rutland Hall. The Student stated that he had been drunk the night before and jumped off a wall and bruised his feet which were hurting. The Student was advised to attend A+E.

0200 Report of a Student feeling unwell in Lenton and Wortley Hall. Security attended – NHS Direct were contacted who had advised no more alcohol and to drink plenty of water.

And the slightly more mundane but inescapable start of term incidents:

0830 Report of a blocked toilet – Estates Staff attended – Lanes for Drains called out.
1045 Report of a leaking sick [sic] Rutland Hall – Estates Staff attended.
1120 Report of a door not closing Lincoln Hall – Estates Staff attended.
1405 Report of a light not working Nightingale Hall – Estates Staff attended.

0030 Security provided access to Willoughby Hall for three Students who had lost their room key.
0040 Security provided access to Cavendish Hall for a Student who had lost their room key.
0130 Security provided access to Cavendish Hall for a Student who had lost their room key.
0130 Security provided access to Southwell Hall for a Student who had lost their room key.
0245 Security provided access to Cavendish Hall for a Student who was locked out of their room.
0250 Security provided access to Cavendish Hall for a Student who had lost their room key.
0300 Security provided access to Lincoln Hall for a Student who had lost their room key.
0300 Security provided access to Rutland Hall for a Student who had lost their room key.

Freshers’ week: just a drunken scam?

An interesting view on freshers’ week

Libby Purves, writing in The Times, argues that freshers’ week is not quite what it seems and has to stop. The new fees regime, she suggests, may put an end to this “ghastly scam”.

These festivals are now in progress or revving up at most British universities; a weird, patronising blend of nannying and temptation, peer pressure and naked marketing. In the past 20 years they have grown into a mini industry aimed with increasing skill and cynicism at teenagers far from home, often for the first time, with unaccustomed money in their pockets.

Of course a “soft” launch to university has its uses. There have always been a few days when new students could find their way around, meet tutors and get passes and information. Without the academic pressure of full term it was a gently social time too. You would probably go to a ramshackle “freshers fair” where clubs and societies set out their stalls; with luck you’d have teamed up over Nescafé with someone from your corridor and giggled together about the hard-sell of stall holders pushing karate, Communism or the Christian Union (I joined the Anarchists’ Society, but gave up because they couldn’t organise meetings. Two quid down the drain).

Pretty much routine observations from someone recalling their own experience but then there are some really interesting comments on attempts to rein in some of the wilder excesses, to respond to the OTT bravado and tackle the “faint bullying tone” from older students. Recognition too that not everyone is the same:

Thus, a good proportion of ambitious, earnest, financially anxious 18-year-olds dislike it, but are made to feel inadequate and boring for doing so. They’d prefer something simpler; quiet, unpressured sociability and useful information. They have worked out that university is not a holiday camp. Foreign students are baffled: most European universities don’t have any such Saturnalia at the start of term. Perceptive spirits may also notice that the expansion of freshers week is fuelled not only by the enthusiasm of existing students, but by hard-nosed commercial exploitation.

A similar line was taken last year in a Guardian article by Patrick Collinson:

But freshers’ fairs have come a long way from the commercial innocence of earlier years. They offer Britain’s businesses “the perfect opportunity for you to enlighten students to your products and services”, according to BAM Student Marketing. “Get face to face with your potential customers … student spending habits have not been developed at this stage, which is why the freshers’ fairs provide excellent potential for forming new customer relationships,” it adds. BAM even provides the websites for scores of student unions (from Aston to York St John) through which it aims to offer “high traffic … to our clients”. Typical clients include insurance, ticketing and travel companies.

 

It is very difficult to argue for a more sober, academically focused transition to university life without looking like a dull, out of touch killjoy. But it’s not entirely fair to suggest it is the fault of “timid” universities for failing to tackle this. There is a real need to address the freshers’ week excess and to ensure a stronger academic and pastoral focus to this induction period. There are a lot of different interests at play here though, not just the external nightclubs and travel companies. Persuading the students’ union, student societies and academic staff that timetabled classes (if not teaching proper) should start as soon as new students arrive is a tall order. But something does need to happen, for all of the reasons Ms Purves suggests and then some. Training students to get used to the feeling of studying with a hangover and to being the target of those looking to form new customer relationships is hardly the ideal induction into university life.

A “hyperwired” freshers’ week?

Freshers! Come and try a new kind of learning laboratory

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a fascinating freshers’ week piece on a very different kind of learning lab, within the setting of a student dorm:

Students moving into a newly renovated dormitory at the University of Kentucky signed up for a hyperwired college experience: Each one was given an iPad and required to take a series of tech-themed courses. The unusual program is called A&S Wired Residential College and is housed in a dorm of 177 freshmen, who plan to major in a variety of fields.

Among the $1-million in renovations are 20 wireless access points in the basement and first floor—enough to serve 75 high-bandwidth users at the same time—11 large-screen televisions, which can be connected with multiple iPads simultaneously; and two 82-inch “interactive whiteboards.” The whiteboards will be in the dorm’s two smart classrooms, which both also have 55-inch televisions. The classrooms can do international videoconferencing, too; one class in the spring will feature interaction with a class in South Africa, says Mark Kornbluh, dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“We see this as sort of a laboratory of different teaching technologies,” he says. The students in the dorm are meant to be a microcosm of the university, and the related courses are in subjects including “Social Connections: The Sweet and the Bitter of Relationships,” “The Vietnam War,” and “The African-American Experience in Kentucky.”

It’s an interesting experiment. And it does look like the students knew what they were signing up to (and not just free iPads). Although it does seem that the innovation is driven by the technology rather than by educational aims.  The piece doesn’t say what the gender balance is.

THOSE A level pictures

There is only one place to go for the A level pictures everyone expects, namely It’s Sexy A-Levels!:

A blog exploring the hypothesis that UK newspapers believe that only attractive girls in low cut tops do A-Levels.

It is truly entertaining. But there is one pic of a boy, reproduced here for a reminder of what the A level experience is like for a few:

 It is very much the silly season.

Free books for freshers

Persuading freshers to read

Last year St Andrews gave a novel to all freshers to get them reading, discussing and engaging with each other.

This year, according to theBookseller.com, the scheme seems to have expanded:

Nearly 18,000 freshers across five UK universities have been given copies of a winning or shortlisted Man Booker novel for the autumn term.

First year students enrolling at Imperial College, London, Liverpool University, Newcastle University, St Andrew’s University, and the University of East Anglia received a copy of a Man Booker title to read over the summer, regardless of their area of study. Georgetown University, Washington has also initiated a similar scheme.

Just a really good idea. Would be interested to hear how it went.

Admission Officials’ Tweets – Students Not Interested

Another social media disconnect?

According to a report in The Chronicle, Admission Officials’ Tweets are not being noticed by prospective students:

Colleges are ramping up efforts to connect with prospective students through Twitter—but students aren’t interested, a new study says. Evidence has shown that teenagers rely on college visits and Web sites to learn about colleges, rather than social-media outlets. When it comes to Twitter, students are barely on the site at all, let alone for college research purposes.

Abe Gruber, director of marketing at Bloomfield College, found in a recent study that while 40 percent of college admissions offices are active on Twitter, only 15 percent of prospective students expressed interest using in Twitter to learn about colleges. Mr. Gruber surveyed 200 prospective freshmen and 70 admissions offices in his study, which is not available online. He presented his findings at the Hobsons Connect U conference this week in Minneapolis. “Twitter scores high for the admissions officers, but not for students,” said Mr. Gruber.

Interesting this although it is not clear what the reasons are for the reluctance on the part of applicants. Some of the commentators on the piece suggest, reasonably, that it might be down to the purposes to which Twitter is being put by the Admissions staff: if it’s just used as another marketing device rather than as a communications tool to connect with applicants then it is perhaps unsurprising students are not excited.

Preparing for university: “we call this a washing machine”

Some new students need ‘life skills’ it seems

According to the Times “pampered pupils” are receiving lessons in life skills to enable them to cope at university:

Increasing numbers of privileged students are arriving at university unable to use a washing machine, cook a simple meal or look after themselves, according to head teachers and academics. Teenagers have become so used to someone else picking up after them at home or in boarding school that they lack the basic skills needed to survive when they start their degree. One boarding school is so concerned that pupils will not be able to cope at university that it is sending sixth-formers to live in self-contained cabins.

Unlike boarders at other schools, sixth-formers at Abbotsholme in Staffordshire, where fees are £25,000 a year, do their own washing, ironing, cleaning and cooking. Steve Fairclough, the headmaster, said it helped to prepare them for the realities of university. “Independent schools, if they are not careful, can institutionalise kids and give them a silver spoon so they expect things to be done for them,” he said. “These cabins give them a bit of independence.”

This sounds like a major problem and one which has yet to be adequately addressed by many student services centres. It is time something was done.

Students to learn how to protest

Innovative teaching and learning approaches at Sheffield Hallam

At one time student protest was as much a part of university life as getting drunk on Freshers’ Week. Now a university is giving some of its politics students lessons in how to campaign and take direct action. The Sheffield Hallam students will have to conduct an activism project and campaign on a theme of their choice. Course leader Dr Annabel Kiernan said many students did not have time for protest as they were too busy working to pay off their tuition fee loans. She said this course, a module on the politics BA, was a way of giving the students some experience of how to campaign.

via BBC News.

Excellent news. There must be other traditional aspects of university life which students are now just too busy to undertake in their own time and should be factored into curricula. There will, of course, be a compulsory module in essay avoidance displacement activity.

Freshers’ week commercialism

According to the Guardian “Freshers’ week is an education in commercialism”:

…freshers’ fairs have come a long way from the commercial innocence of earlier years. They offer Britain’s businesses “the perfect opportunity for you to enlighten students to your products and services”, according to BAM Student Marketing. “Get face to face with your potential customers … student spending habits have not been developed at this stage, which is why the freshers’ fairs provide excellent potential for forming new customer relationships,” it adds.

week one

Yes, there is more commercial activity than historically, but there really is so much more to it than this. For example, the University of Nottingham’s Students’ Union has a bit more on offer as the Freshers’ Fair site shows. Whilst there is still in many freshers’ weeks an undue emphasis on alcohol-fuelled activity, things are changing for the better although this remains the issue that newspapers generally focus on.

However, the Guardian also notes that:

Other universities run their own lucrative commercial arrangements at freshers’ fairs. Last year Oxford charged £12,000 for sponsorship and £2,000 for a standard stall at its fair, and £1,500 for a bag insert (plus £850 for your name on the bag).

This is more like “commercial innocence” – it seems to be an extremely good promotional deal for the companies concerned, offering huge exposure for very little money.

Will swine flu end freshers’ week?

swine-flu

The Guardian is reporting that universities may cancel freshers’ week because of swine flu concerns:

Universities are working on emergency plans to postpone freshers’ week activities and shut down parts of their campuses if the swine flu pandemic peaks when students return in September. Contingency plans to slow the spread of the virus, or to cope if the illness cripples staffing levels, include podcasting lectures and quarantining infected students in their halls of residence. There are fears that the start of term could exacerbate the pandemic, with nearly two million students starting or returning to university, and hundreds of thousands crossing the country to begin their courses.

This is a huge challenge for institutions and everyone will be preparing for such eventualities. Whether it will mean an end to freshers’ week traditions remains to be seen but this will be just one of the many difficult issues universities are going to face in the autumn.

It does seem rather unlikely that wholesale podcasting is going to be the answer though.

Getting Freshers to read, discuss and engage

THE reports on a really rather creative initiative at St Andrews
reluctant

Every new student enrolling at the University of St Andrews this autumn will be sent a novel during the summer and will be encouraged to discuss it with other freshers when they arrive on campus in September. The university is distributing Mohsin Hamid’s novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a Man Booker-shortlisted work, to all 1,500 new undergraduates in an initiative to give students a common discussion topic and to focus their energies on broad intellectual debate rather than narrow academic study.

This is a terrific idea. Helps with student induction and orientation in halls and ensures that the residential experience has a learning dimension too. Wish we’d thought of it

Hello Freshers: welcoming new students to university

Welcoming new students…

Universities seems to have got an awful lot better at induction in recent years. Judging though by the Cornell University New Students site, UK institutions have quite a long way yet to go.

Although the volume of support material does look a bit overwhelming, it is well organised and accessible. From a UK perspective, the sheer scale of the student support infrastructure is awesome. There is much here we can learn from.

An education in drinking?

According to a recent story in The Times it is “Last orders for boozy freshers”.

THE days of new students being initiated into binge drinking at universities may be numbered. The government is considering plans to clamp down on “freshers’ weeks”, where students are encouraged to consume vast quantities of cheap alcohol.

Beer

The prime minister and his policy team have been impressed by experts at a Downing Street seminar who deplored the scale of drunkenness at university. Professor Oliver James, a liver disease specialist and head of the medical faculty at Newcastle University, told Gordon Brown that he was “appalled” by the quantity of drinking during freshers’ week at his university.

There are all sorts of excellent reasons for agreeing with all of this and seeking to change the rationale of freshers’ week from being a training course in excessive drinking to one which is primarily focused on easing the transition to university life and starting the induction and orientation process to help students to get the most out of their higher education. However, it is genuinely difficult to see how this can be driven by government (other than in a general way by imposing substantial rises in duty on alcohol). But, things do have to change and it is, I think, good that government is at least aware of the issue and supportive of change.