It’s Time Universities Stopped Treating Students Like Children

Sep 23, 2016 by

By Charlotte Gill –

Poor, poor freshers. How I feel for them this month as they head off to university. During the journey there they may dream of a life where, for the first time, they will be free – intellectually and physically – to think and do what they want.

Little do they know what they are about to walk into.

Over the last decade, universities have become frighteningly oppressive places. Where diverging opinions once were celebrated, increasing numbers of students have blocked wildcard speakers and publications from campus life, lest they upset the consenting masses.

For a while, students turned their attention towards external forces in order to be offended, whether it was Germaine Greer or Katie Hopkins coming to give a talk. Now they have turned on each other.

The new threat for students is other students – and whether they can be trusted to behave. This doubt has given rise to a patronising and unnecessary range of classes – a sort of extension of the Personal, Social, Health Economic lessons taught in schools – to educate everyone in how to be good.

These classes – at a large range of all universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and the ultra-right on University of East Anglia – cover areas such as sexual consent, race relations and lad culture.

Once they were run by student unions, but a new report suggests they have since been taken over by administrators. In some cases, lessons may even be mandatory. At Bristol University, undergraduates have to do a quiz on sexual scenarios.

None of this is helpful and in fact it grossly underestimates students, their empathy, intelligence and ability to regulate their own behaviour. The idea that it’s universities’ responsibility to make everyone get along is clearly absurd and deeply patronising. Indeed, the existence of these workshops is itself dangerous because missing one may at some future point be used as an excuse for having acted badly. It’s not impossible to imagine someone saying “Sorry, I missed the sexual consent class and didn’t realize this was unacceptable.”

In truth, universities need to keep their noses out of students’ business. Where once they sought to teach young adults about bigger issues, now they seek to govern every minutiae of the student experience in case one person mentally injures another. It is belittling.

It is also dangerous, because it encourages social justice warriors.

Allowing people to get on with things – and navigate being human themselves – is the best education they’ll get. Yet universities’ constant interventions make students incredibly wary of their thoughts, words and actions – and limits people’s ability for resilience. It also means students increasingly live in a world free from offence.

It’s particularly strange that universities are spending so much time – and money – on workshops when you consider all the other things they could be investing their resources. Looked at one way, in light of all of these anti-offence policies and exercises it comes as no surprise that some students are so busy being offended all the time. Many British universities offer inadequate teaching hours, despite consistently hiking fees. Workshops may even serve as a distraction from this.

And, of course, mental health problems have surged enormously over the last few years. At Russell Group institutions, the number of students requiring counselling jumped by 23 percent from 2014-15 compared to three years earlier. What students really need help with is not their own social experience but their own psychological pain. When anxiety is the most commonly cited mental health issue for students, the new range of workshops could greatly exacerbate the issue – fuelling nervousness about interactions.

Generally, these classes show just how much young people have been devalued. This cheapening has been noticed for years, but in more economic terms – whether it’s discussions about income or their not being able to get onto the housing ladder. And now we have insulted their intelligence.

I have great belief in students. They may not have a degree, but they have humanity. No amount of teaching can enhance or take away from that. It’s time the people who run universities paid attention.

Source: It’s Time Universities Stopped Treating Students Like Children | Heat Street

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