Pigeons and mollycoddling


Rebecca Quin expects more from our esteemed university

Staring out of my bedroom window, contemplating the vast expanse of grey misery before me, occasionally unsettled by an obese pigeon struggling to throw itself from one roof to another, it suddenly becomes apparent that I may be having some sort of mental crisis.

Returning to St Andrews after a heady summer of intense work and play, and dare I say it, Romance, was never going to be easy. But this year it feels particularly difficult.  Going into third year I should be excited. And in my first lecture, I was. I sat there in a comfy new blue chair, rubbing my hands with glee, looking as though I was trying to create an imaginary fire.  Dismissed after twenty minutes I was confused.  Was that really all the information I needed about the first ever course that actually counts towards my degree?

My timetable for this year looks like a depressing game of checkers, with thirty hours of blank white space to fill, with what exactly I’m unsure: reading, yes, drinking, of course, watching megavideo and getting frustrated when it inevitably cuts off at a crucial plot point, standard.  A week of this inspired spontaneity however and I’m ready to strangle Time with a cheese wire.  I hate to admit it but I am completely and utterly bored. I don’t seem to be spending enough time at university; attending three lectures per week makes me feel like my degree is a distance learning course; I’m paying nearly two thousand pounds to spend time in a library all too yellow and confusing.  I should be rejoicing in this student liberty, yet I wish that I could have more contact with world-renowned researchers and have heated discussions with my cleverer peers.  I wish that every day was filled with terribly smart people telling me things that I pretend to understand.  I wish I knew every detail of my subject, down to Wordsworth’s inside leg measurement.  In short, I wish I wasn’t such a geek.

Reading an Arts degree at St Andrews twenty years ago meant seeing your tutor every day, writing several essays a semester and harbouring secret feelings for Mr Motivator.  Why, then, have contact hours decreased so dramatically?  Increased emphasis on self-directed learning alongside the boom in the number of students attending University are two possible reasons for the reduction in hours, especially since lecturers have a huge amount to do outside of teaching.  At present, according to a report by the Open University, UK students study for fewer hours a week than their European counterparts and attribute less of their learning to their teachers.  The report also claims that students here are less dependent upon their teachers than on the continent, and are the most motivated to work.   Obviously every student experience is different.  Previously I’ve had to pull motivation out from where the sun doesn’t shine, the results of which have been some of my best marks.  The question is, do fewer contact hours make for better learning?

Mollycoddling students is undeniably detrimental to their learning process, but the relationship between a tutor and his or her student shouldn’t be an estranged one.  Making the leap from school to university is about becoming independent and producing original thought, yet it is also about forging the capacity for adult dialogue with a mentor.  It may be an academic cliché, but knowledge and experience should be passed on from teacher to student on a personal level, even if there are twenty other people in the room.  I don’t believe that it is possible to learn as much from a book as from a person. At the very least, what you learn is different.  As logistically, financially and quite possibly ethically impossible as it would be, more teaching hours for honours arts students might be a worthwhile proposal.  In any case it would prevent a small proportion of the student population from becoming hermits, occasionally venturing outside to throw something at the obese pigeon that keeps landing on their roof.


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