Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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 pressures.


  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 universities.

Ann Barlow

February 2001

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