My daughter isn’t enjoying university and I don’t know how to help her

My daughter, Maelo Manning.

We did everything by the book. By this, I am referring to the unwritten books of ‘Mothering in a Capitalist World‘ or ‘How to bring up a potentially strong citizen who goes on to become a productive member of the Capitalist society’.

I started teaching her from the age dot. Read to her from the day that she was born. Taught her the Alphabet and numbers from the age of a few months old. At age 3 she was medically proven to have a high IQ. By age 4 she could write 10 words. She excelled at school and won prizes and awards including ‘Outstanding Student’ in 6th form. Maelo was the youngest political blogger in the UK. She started blogging at the age of 10.

The dream was for her to get into a top London based Russell Group University which she did. Maelo is studying Law and is in her second year.

That’s meant to be the British pathway isn’t it as a model of social mobility in a Capitalist system?

Maelo is the only child of two immigrants. We have slogged, made sacrifices and played the game BUT there is a huge flaw in the model. Disengagement, sheer arrogance of elitism and total disregard for students’ welfare in a nutshell.

Top British universities are letting their students down by not engaging with them in a systematic or meaningful way. They trade on their name with a high degree of self-entitlement. British universities command a high standing in the world, especially the London based ones, apart from Oxbridge. It is a self-perpetuating model of British elitism.

BUT at ground level the picture is rather pitiful. Teaching hours and tutor engagement is low. A disinterested higher education system which trades on taking in A grade students whom they know will work their socks off, even without help, and the student’s fear of not getting a top degree which will harm their chances of getting a good job helps elite British Universities churn out top candidates for the job market but the reality of university life in modern Britain is one of letting students down.

It’s an individualist sink or swim system which is causing untold mental health and stress problems.

My daughter is disenchanted, fed up and demoralized. I have a daughter who was highly motivated in school, where her academic interest was nurtured and encouraged, but who is now demoralized and dejected. The only time she has reached a pinnacle of emotional wellbeing in the last two years was when she won a scholarship last summer to study at the University of North Caroline. The American system is a lot more engaged and hands-on.

I have decided to blog about this because of the lack of breadth in the debates on education. The current debate surrounding the private school system is one example. A discourse around education never seems to stray off the paths of: a) private vs state school; b) social mobility and c) how certain degrees are more worthwhile than others.

Problems around being at University centre on hating one’s course, not being able to make friends and missing home. The one thing lacking in this menu list is the help and support not being offered at university when it comes to delivering education. Isn’t that the primary purpose of university? For goodness sake, is this too much to ask? Why is it being left solely to parents to sort this out?

Instead, it is as if all is achieved when one crosses the physical threshold of the University on Day 1 of enrolment in September every year. Students then come right up against the pressure of ‘having the best time of your life’. You are deemed a failure if you aren’t.

My daughter has lots of friends at University and goes to the library to study every day. She is sociable and takes opportunities to engage with the social activities on offer. But having the ‘best time of your life’ at university also includes being supported in one’s studies.

In Capitalist speak, ‘where is the value for money?’

According to The Economist which did a special report on universities in 2015, ‘while research impact is easy to gauge educational impact is not. There are no reliable national measure of what different universities’ graduates have learned, nor data on what they earn, so there is no way of assessing which universities are doing the educational side of their job well. Universities are paid on the basis of research, not educational, output’.

Out of desperation I spoke to a former tutor who worked at a top London university for a number of years and he told me that tutors have no incentive, apart from a moral conscience, to engage and educate students to a high standard. Allegedly, tutors who are rewarded are the ones who produce world class research in peer reviewed journals that reflect glory on their universities. This substantiates what The Economist reported.

I started this blog post by stating that “we had done everything by the book”. Mothers, in reality, are the first foot soldiers of capitalism when it comes to bringing up future workers of the system. Mothering is driven by a fear of not being a ‘good enough mother’ and this includes having a child who is not doing well at work. Ask any mother how their child is doing and the answer will, inevitably, include something along the lines of ‘doing well at school’ or not, as the case may be.

‘Doing well in school’ is the cog in the Capitalist causality of motherhood. Birth a child, bring it up and produce an adult who is fit for society. Well, I have done my bit and continue to do so. I am in the fortunate position of being able to help my daughter with her studies to an extent but what about parents who can’t do this at all? Also, there are limits to my ability to assist which is why there are physical structures known as universities which house well qualified people who call themselves tutors. For example, I don’t and can’t keep abreast of the latest legal trends or law cases.

According to the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) in their ‘2018 Student Academic Experience Survey‘, meeting expectations of students at university is crucial to delivering value. Look at HEPI’s graph below – aren’t the survey results worrying?

I have a daughter who wants to study, wants to be at university, loves reading Law and is keen for more support and engagement which is sorely lacking in the system. As a parent I feel completely disempowered to do anything about this but am trying to deal with the fall out at home which manifests itself as sadness and crushing disappointment. This from a child who loves studying. Something is terribly wrong and I don’t know what to do.


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