Memorandum from Ms Ann Barlow, Learning
Support Co-ordinator, Manchester Metropolitan University (HE 151)
1. It was a privilege to be able to meet
with the Select Committee at Manchester Metropolitan University
on 6 February. I would like to identify some issues which I felt
were not covered fully at the meeting and provide further detail
regarding those issues. As Learning Support Coordinator I lead
a team of five who provide support the development of study skills
through one-to-one interviews and on course workshops, advice
and guidance to students with disabilities, and advice and guidance
to students who are unhappy with their courses and are considering
transfer. The following points are presented on the basis of observations
made by members of the team.
2. The perception of debt was fully covered
by several members at the meeting. It needs to be made clear that
the pressure on students to gain a good degree is increased by
the attitudes towards debt. The effort necessary to gain an upper
second or first class degree has always been stressful for students.
However, in the past the class of degree was not given such importance
unless the student was aiming for an academic post or for a career
in a competitive profession.
There is now a perception that a well-paid job
will only be available to those with upper second or first class
degrees. A student may believe that a lower class degree will
not lead to a higher status job. Without such a job the loan would
take much longer to be paid off and the graduate remain in debt,
affecting such things as the ability to apply for a mortgage.
However, when students are recruited from non-traditional
backgrounds, study skills are often not adequately developed.
As a result, the student often feels a sense of failure if initial
marks or grades do not reach the upper second standard. Students
may feel that it is not worth continuing if they are not likely
to reach the standards they set themselves.
3. Many students from ethnic minorities
do not take out student loans. Often they are fully supported
by their families. The family perceives this as an investment
but have very high expectations of the student. In particular,
young people may be expected to achieve standards which may be
above their capabilities. This causes considerable stress for
those who use English as a second language. These young people
often belong to groups targeted by widening participation initiatives.
However, without additional study support when at university they
may not achieve the standards expected by the family and may therefore
have to withdraw as the family will no longer support the student
financially. Young women are particularly vulnerable to family
4. The Disabled Student's Allowance enables
most students with disabilities to access adequate support for
study. However, the process for claiming such support invariably
means that the student does not receive any support until the
course is well under way. While some Local Education Authorities
will arrange for assessment of the student's needs before the
student enters university, most will not consider such an assessment
until the student has enrolled on the course. As there is a national
shortage of trained assessors it is inevitable that there is a
bottleneck in conducting assessments in the autumn term. Many
students will not have their needs assessed until the end of the
first term. The authority then needs to approve the recommendations.
This can lead to further delays. If the authority has also questioned
the student's eligibility and requested further medical or psychological
evidence even greater delays are experienced. A student who does
not receive appropriate support within the first term is less
likely to achieve success in the first year and may find it difficult
to continue. The process is dependent on the cooperation of the
student's Local Education Authority and the approach used varies
tremendously particularly in terms of prioritising.
5. The Learning Support team here at MMU
have found that there have been increasing demands on their services
in the past three years, with the above issues featuring prominently.
While we have been fortunate in acquiring funding for projects
to support students with disabilities in collaboration with the
other Manchester Universities, these projects cannot enable us
to address problems within a wide context. In addition the bidding
process takes up staff time to the detriment of a stretched service.
If the current trends are to continue the provision of student
support will need to be addressed more comprehensively within