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The problem with Universities:
(and why students don't fulfil their potential)...

student needs
league tables

Universities have changed enormously over the past ten years. Where teaching and research were their focus, the majority have become huge money-making corporations focused on profit and visibility. Today, a plethora of league-tables published annually demonstrate how ‘good’ a university is and those with higher rankings benefit from the increase in revenue it will bring. Students rely on rankings to help them decide where to study, and Universities use them to formulate their strategic direction.

However, rankings and league tables fail in one important aspect: they do not consider the needs of the individual student - when did you last hear of a Vice Chancellor talking to a student?


Photo courtesy Yan Krukau

White Waves

Student drop-out rates


Photo courtesy of Karolina Grabowska

Student : Staff Ratios

This is a university's ratio of staff to students. It can vary enormously - the best universities tend to have very low SSRs, giving students access to tutors more often and for longer which is vital to academic success and wellbeing whilst studying. In the UK, for example, the University of Oxford has an SSR of 10:1 

However, SSRs in the UK are becoming larger, meaning fewer tutors are available to teach and support students. This is a very worrying trend.


(In fact, I have worked on courses where the SSR was more than 50:1, and students struggled to get anywhere near the help they needed).

Tutors with no time to teach

 It will come as no surprise to know that the number of tutors with long term sickness and mental health problems directly caused by their workload is at its highest ever level.

Tutors are expected to work as long as it takes to keep up with their enormous workloads. There is little time left for teaching prep and lectures can be recycled year after year or written hastily the night before, (a fact that most of my universities colleagues would be loathed to admit to!)  


Teaching and learning quality drops if tutors don’t have time to prepare properly - and students inevitably suffer.

Inexperienced tutors - cheap labour with little experience


Photo courtesy of Christina Morillo

Universities often use research students or new graduates with little understanding of how to teach or how students learn, even though they may be expert in their subject.


Many are unqualified to teach and have no experience of working with students who have learning differences, or cultural and language barriers.


Through no fault of their own,  inexperienced tutors lead to students struggling to learn - and unable to get help. 

White Waves

Pastoral support in universities

The number of students needing help with mental health and emotional issues at universities is at its highest ever level.


The Student Minds survey (2022) found that 25% of students have a diagnosed mental health issue and 33% have poor mental health.


Universities have a duty of care for their students and many offer support – however, help is limited and often just a brief phone call or online meeting – there are just too many students needing help and not enough resources. Most students also report that such services are inadequate which is worrying, but unsurprising.  


Photo courtesy of SHVETS Production


Although they have passed their IELTS test to get into university, students studying using Engish as a second language is a completely different story. The intensity of courses and the nuances of language make it extremely challenging.


I have seen dozens of hopeful students keen to study, lose their confidence and give up, believing they are the problem – they aren’t – they’re just not getting the right help when they need it.

Photo courtesy of Yan Krukau

Studying overseas - the bravest step for any young person

Leaving family and friends can be a daunting and overwhelming experience. Added to this, the expectations of parents who have invested in their child’s future and are eager to see them do well.


I have seen endless students who find themselves struggling with homesickness, loneliness and language, who can’t tell their family because of the disappointment it will cause.


Some are so homesick they just want to return and forget their studies but are unable to do so. Inevitably, without anyone to support and motivate them, their attendance drops, they fall behind and struggle to pass their course.

Photo courtesy of Monstera

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