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Students aren’t what they used to be - and never were. David Watson HEPI Conference 6 May 2009. Centre for Higher Education Studies (CHES). Talking about the “student experience:” four pathologies. Nostalgia and selective memory Condescension and disappointment

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students aren t what they used to be and never were

Students aren’t what they used to be - and never were

David Watson

HEPI Conference 6 May 2009

Centre for Higher

Education Studies


talking about the student experience four pathologies
Talking about the “student experience:” four pathologies
  • Nostalgia and selective memory
  • Condescension and disappointment
  • Moral panics and “pulling up the ladder”
  • Contradictory expectations

Nearly half of a recent class could not name a single country that bordered Israel. In an introductory journalism class, 11 of 18 students could not name what country Kabul was in, although we have been at war there for half a decade. Last fall only one in 21 students could name the U.S. secretary of defense. Given a list of four countries – China, Cuba, India and Japan - not one of those same 21 students could identify India and Japan as democracies. Their grasp of history was little better. The question of when the Civil War was fought invited an array of responses – half a dozen were off by a decade or more. Some students thought that Islam was the principal religion of South America, that Roe vs. Wade was about slavery, that 50 judges sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1975. You get the picture, and it isn’t pretty. (Gup, 2008).

The Brent students will likely find themselves in a rust-stained concrete former polytechnic not far from home in London, to save money. A seductive glimpse of Oxford might leave them feeling that they had failed, when to make it to university at all would be success against extreme odds (Polly Toynbee, Education Guardian, 5.8.08)
  • Generational relationships
  • Student “co-creation”
  • The international campus
  • Student satisfaction
the university of google
The “University of Google”

We had to work it out for ourselves. It was an environment of fear: a fear of failure. At the very time that capitalism was benevolent, the university system was preparing us for the ruthless inequalities we would confront upon leaving a leafy campus.

Now that there are wars on terror, casualized workplaces, little union protection for workers and an economy based on credit card debt, universities are soft but cuddly institutions, shielding our students from the dire reality of life (Brabazon, 2007: 125)

the information age mind set
The “information age mind-set”
  • Computers aren’t technology
  • Internet better than TV
  • Reality no longer real
  • Doing rather than knowing
  • Nintendo over Logic
  • Multitasking way of life
  • Typing rather than handwriting
  • Staying connected
  • Zero tolerance for delays
  • Consumer/Creator blurring (Frand, 2000).

I'm told that university students tell tales about their ballooning student loans with rueful grins rather than with floods of despairing tears. Everyone's in debt - so what? That's the way it is, and how else are they supposed to get through school? As for paying it all off, they'll think about that later (Atwood, 2008: 131).

younger employers
Younger employers

The age of the recruiter came through as a key factor. Younger respondents were more prepared to employ school or college leavers and therefore had much less difficulty in filling job vacancies. Older recruiters found it much more difficult to buy into what school or college leavers had to offer (Lanning et al., 2008: 1-2).

Percentage of young full-time first degree entrants from Socio-Economic Classification classes 4, 5, 6 and 7, 2005/06

Enrolment of students from social groups 4,5, and 6, by “gangs”


the international campus1
The international campus
  • UK Institutions by number of overseas countries supplying students,
  • UK 2004-05
  • >150 3
  • 100-149 75
  • 50-99 45
  • 20-49 32
  • <20 13
graduate citizens
“Graduate Citizens”
  • In their speech, our respondents recognised four circuits: (i) those of student peers; (ii) the intergenerational; (iii) that of imagined ‘abstract others’ as recipients of state welfare; (iv) and the formal constitutional dimension of their relationship to state and government. These circuits were governed by principles such as fairness, altruism, reciprocity and responsibility that we will sum up in the more general term, ‘mutuality.’ …. The moralising of extended relationships in this manner counters both the fears of those who believe that the absence of a language of formal citizenship indicates privatised withdrawal and those who would wish to celebrate the primacy of calculative individualism (Ahier et al., 2002: 141).

The qualities of British life - the notion of civic duty binding people to one another and the sense of fair play which underpins the idea of a proper social order - come together in the ethic of public service [leading to] the great British public institutions admired throughout the world [among them] our universities, including the Open University (Brown, 2004).

the citizenship test
The citizenship test
  • Things you need to know -
  • data from the census and the history of immigration;
  • national and religious holidays (predominantly Christian);
  • Quangos and NDPBs;
  • the political process;
  • the Constitution (e.g. the Act of Succession)
  • international bodies (Commonwealth, EU, UN)
  • how to behave (motorways, estate agents, Post Office, pubs)
ed husain the islamist penguin 2007
Ed Husain, The Islamist (Penguin, 2007)
  • I loved my time at university. My understanding of my subject had hitherto been blinkered by the arguments of Mawdudi, Qutb and Nabhani that history was a conflict between Islam and the rest of the world. But I was determined to open up my worldview and slowly, independently, question some of the concepts and tenets I had once held dear (156-7).
  • Another of my tutors was Professor John Tosh, author of The Pursuit of History. His lectures caused me to question my approach to history. One thing history was not was an idle intellectual pastime. Professor Tosh argued that the past created the present, and that the past was open to multiple interpretations. What seemed like blasphemy at first slowly began to make sense (159).
  • Which way for the Select Committee?