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Bloody dependent students

December 28, 2009

Official thinking dictates that universities should be responsible for the production of entrepreneurial young people who will revitalise the economy through their enterprise and endeavour. Unfortunately all indicators are that government policy, especially the scrapping of grants, has breed a culture of dependency among students.

The BBC reports here that the University of the West of England is having to persuade overprotective parents to leave their children’s student accommodation where some seem to have taken up residence. Elsewhere the BBC reports that so many parents have been chasing university places for their children that the admissions system is now letting parents act as agents, negotiating with universities on behalf of their children.

Known disaffectionately as ‘helicopter parents‘ because of how they hover over their offspring –  these parents sit in on student interviews, trail around campus orientation sessions, interfere at registration, vet potential room-mates, and are likely to phone lecturers for updates on their children’s progress and with excuses for the late submission of coursework.

Of course, such behaviour is hardly surprising since many parents are paying for their kids time at university, while students supplement their parents’ contribution with loans and part-time jobs. This means that tomorrow’s captains of the new economy are currently domiciled and cosseted at home with mum and dad, distracted from their studies by their job at Tescos and up to their eyes in debt. With fees looking set to increase and Peter Mandelson suggesting that university courses should be shorter (2 instead of 3 years), parents are set to pay more for less. How students will find the time for even part-time jobs when their courses will presumably be more intensive is anybody’s guess, but at least the loan companies will continue to profit, because that is what university is really all about these days – saddling young people with debt, because higher education has certainly got fuck all to do with education or transition to adult independence.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. CharlieMcMenamin permalink
    February 17, 2010 2:52 pm

    Bit late in the day, and you may well have read the book yourself ( it’s winging it’s way to me via Amazon) , but Potlatch ( Will Davies) has a brilliant quote I thought you’d appreciate from Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, on Fisher’s further education students:

    “Many of the teenage students I encountered seemed to be in a state of what I would call depressive hedonia. Depression is usually characterised as a state of anhedonia, but the condition I’m referring to is constituted not by an inability to get pleasure so much as by an inability to do anything else except pursue pleasure. There is a sense that ‘something is missing’ – but no appreciation that this mysterious missing enjoyment can only be accessed beyond the pleasure principle. In large part this is a conseqence of students’ ambiguous structural position, stranded between their old role as subjects of disciplinary institutions and their new status as consumers of services.”

  2. Rabelais permalink*
    February 18, 2010 9:36 am

    Hi Charlie,
    I’ve read Fisher’s Capitalist Realism. Really enjoyed it and thought that his comments on Higher Education and students had a definite ring of truth, certainly corresponds with my own experience. Although I do think he needs to be careful when trying to apply his experience of bureaucracy in HE to the broader sociology of work.

    On students specifically, Fisher is very good, because he thinks about them in relation to the institution and economy, and doesn’t simply blame them as individuals for there laziness, thoughtlessness etc. However, I think there is much more to be said about the student experience, especially the sort of contradictions they are expected to negotiate. I’ve hinted at some of these on the blog. How they are rendered dependent by grants and an educational system obsessed with targets, which means that they are taught how to pass exams rather than how to think. Despite breeding dependency into them they are then encouraged to be entrepreneurial.

    Far from being entrepreneurial students can be pretty passive. A colleague was complaining to me recently about this passivity (a condition related – I think – to Fisher’s depressive hedonia). I think perhaps their passivity has got something to do with how they internalise the whole ideology of employability that HE is awash with at the moment. On the one hand employability has a sort of entrepreneurial twist to it, in so much as it encourages them to see themselves as the authors of their own success. But its emphasis on the importance of flexibility and retraining and upskilling for employment, is just as likely to encourage students to see themselves as a sort of tabula rasa, or to interpret ‘flexible’ as passively pliable.

    I hate to generalise because I see just enough really good students who are engaged in their education – good independent adult learners, if you like. But I meet so many more students, who certainly aren’t stupid, they’re just not remotely interested in education, only in the qualification that they seem to think is theirs by right, having paid to get on the course. The kind of moral panic among some in HE about ‘post-literacy’ and ‘dumbing down’ is understandable but there have always been people who had no interest in education and people who didn’t want to read, it’s just that in the past, before mass higher education, they didn’t go to university. I think the shock that some of my older colleagues are experiencing is on account of suddenly being confronted with people they never had to encounter before.


  1. Parents are ‘too supportive’ of their lazy, idle, good-for-nothing graduate offspring « Media Studies is Shit

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