OK, so I’ll own up … in 1992 I became a fresher at Kingston University, which is why, after walking around campus this week, ‘freshers week’ at the University of Leicester, I feel compelled to write this.
I know this will sound like I’m an old fart (which I probably am now), but in ‘my day’ my parents left me at the hall of residence, and that was me for the next 2 or 3 months, on my own with hardly any contact with friends or family, left with 10 other complete strangers in my hall ‘house’ who would grow become a second family. We were all in the same boat. We were all away from home for the first time, all 18/19 years old, and all feeling slightly nervous about these strangers we had to get on and live with. There was a public phone I could use to call friends and family but it was expensive and I couldn’t be bothered to queue for it. And anyway, who would I call – we didn’t find out about the number until we turned up? My old school friends were in the same boat, at their own university, with an equally busy and expensive public phone … and I wasn’t about to call home. I had no choice but to find out who I was living with, I had no choice but to engage and socialise and to make friends. I had no choice but to suck it up and get on with it – no moaning to old school friends about this or that: my new support network was there and I had to find out the hard way who I could trust, or not as it turned out.
I don’t think students are having, or about to have, the ‘university experience’ they think, and it’s certainly not the experience I had. Here’s why.
- 1992 – my hall of residence housed about 500+students in some 50 ‘houses’, and had less than 50 parking spaces – which were for the most part empty, as students didn’t have or need cars, or afford them either. And those that did have a car had a beat-up old Renault 5 or Ford Fiesta or Mini that their mum let them have.
- 2012 – so many students have cars, and nearly all I saw today (and in previous years) are no older than 3 or 4 years old, and look like a branch of Halfords loaded in the boot. There is clearly more money in the students pocket (or their parents pockets). The number driving fairly upmarket executive cars is also very high, as it was when I looked around the car park at Bournemouth University over previous years.
- 1992 – I took a shoe box with 25 or so cassettes and a cassette stereo with me to Uni in my first year, that’s all I had room for in the car along with everything else I had to take. I had to leave my record player and 400+ vinyl albums behind, I just didn’t know what it was going to be like enough to take them. The next year I’d saved and got a portable CD stereo (still quite new even then) so had the same shoebox but stuffed full of CDs, which was still only about 30. I had to be very selective about what music to take for the term, and it was a careful choice that changed often in the weeks and days leading up to leaving home.
- 2012 – with iPod and iPhone, and probably iPad too (or Blackberry’s, or Android, or cloud storage), in their pockets they’re taking hundreds of albums and thousands of MP3s. It’s too easy. Where are the ‘mix tapes’ and the careful soul searching about which tunes will be good for the next few months? It’s not all about playlists you know!
- 1992 – even when we tried to be smart, we were still quite scruffy. It wasn’t just about fashion, it was more about money to live vs money to dress well with, and we preferred to eat. In fact one house mate in my first year survived off spaghetti rings and sausages he got on offer from Iceland for the whole of his first term while he waited for cheques to clear (cheques .. .remember them?)
- 2012 – when the new students are smart, they are very smart with heavily branded (and expensive) clothes and, when they’re scruffy they are very scruffy. But this year the students are, at the moment, extremely well dressed – all no doubt showing off in the first week. Let’s see what it’s like by next May?
- 1992 – Our assignments were based around what was in the the course materials that we had to buy (yes, buy!) from the office, or in the library; books, journals, and some old newspapers. It was relatively easier for my tutors to know the sources we’d use in their assignments, or at least recognise an un-quoted piece. We had no access to other students at other Universities and what they’d been writing.
- 2012 – With the Internet in their back pockets its harder for the University to know what is or isn’t copied, or indeed what is in the library and what isn’t. Is this why we are becoming so reliant on tools like Turnitin, or is that the tutors don’t know their subject as well as they used to?
- 1992 – there was nothing mobile – phones, computing, etc. I knew only one person with a personal computer (PC) and that was the size of his suitcase and had basic word processor and spreadsheet capabilities, and that was it. In my final year I rented a PC for £25 a month, and it was old and slow even by the standards at that time (remember Radio Rentals). There was barely something you’d recognise as the Internet – I had an email but it was internal to the university only. It wasn’t until my final year in 1996 that I could find work related to my course (Geology) and even then it was extremely limited to the larger US universities who had websites not only for brand but also for research activities.
- 2012 – everything is mobile, everything is in their pockets, everything is available. While this is good, it’s very good, but it makes it easy to escape from the experience of engaging with new people and places. With Facebook and Twitter and IM and other online tools it’s easy for new students to forget it’s all new and just continue their old lives at a distance, while not putting as much effort in to their new environment and people.
While some aspects (mobile phones, cars, Intenet, opportunities, etc) I wish I’d had 20 years ago, I think I had a better experience at becoming self-sufficient and learning about life.
This is why students are getting, for me, a diluted university experience: they never really shake off their bounds to home and friends enough to explore their new environment, new people, new scenes, new everything. It’s too easy when it gets tough or lonely to snap back to their old life and ‘not try’. I’m not saying this isn’t needed, clearly some need this safety net for a good many reasons, but there are some who just need to try harder where they are now and get on with it. How are they going to graduate as mature capable adults if it’s been easy to avoid conflict or hard decisions?
Come on, one and all … what are your observations about freshers when you were one and the current cream of the crop? Have you noticed the changes and how do you think they impact on the ‘university experience’ – good or bad? You notice I haven’t mentioned the tuition fess .. oh damn, I just did!