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4:16pm on Tuesday, 30th September, 2014:

Be Careful What You Wish For


Last academic year, I moaned consistently about how bad lecture attendance was. This year will be different. This year, students have to sign into a lecture electronically (or get a friend to swipe them in), and attendance will be logged to a central database. Any student who misses half their lectures and classes for any individual module over a period of two weeks will be sent an email telling them to meet with their academic tutor.

All members of staff are now academic tutors for randomly-chosen students in their department, and therefore they could be called upon to interview any student who doesn't show up to lectures. To facilitate this possibility, they have to timetable two hours a week when they will be in their office, just in case a tutee who can't be bothered to attend a lecture can be bothered to attend a meeting they've been informed by the emails they don't read will take place.

No, I don't know why this means I have to be in my office for a particular two hours every week, as I'll get the same emails about a meeting as the students. However, I do have to be in my office for a particular two hours. I've asked if it can be just one hour as I'm employed half-time. No-one knows.

Now although I may complain bitterly that students don't show up to my lectures, I do actually accept they have a right not to, now that they are paying £9,000 a year to attend university. It'll be reflected in their exam results, sure, but from the students' perspective if only 20% of them show up they'll get their marks scaled anyway. The university knows this, too, so why is there a sudden urge to ensure that students do attend at least half their lectures?

Well, it turns out that the Home Office believes significant numbers of students who come from non-EU overseas do so with the intention of getting a job and living in the UK. Any university that doesn't make sure that its students don't have full-time employment risks having its most-trusted status being removed, which would devastate its prospects (as London Metropolitan University found to its cost in 2012). So, to make sure Essex University (which has a very large proportion of international students in its population) does not risk its own status, we now have to check that all students attend sufficient lectures to show that they couldn't have a job on the side; it also will flag up if they've stopped coming to lectures altogether and have disappeared into the country at large.

Hold on, though, why make this apply to all students? Ah, well if we did it only for the international students (called "tier 4"), that would be racist. Therefore, we're doing it for all students without discrimination. The Home Office's reason for doing it may be discriminatory, but we don't implement it in a discriminatory manner so we're not going to be up before the European Court of Human Rights over it.

Last year, I expressed a wish that more students registered to attend my lectures would do so. In future, I shall have to be more careful what I wish for...?

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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).