Absent Without Leave

‘Exams’ – a word which strikes fear into the heart of many, evoking memories of caffeine fuelled late night cramming, copious amounts of comfort food and an inescapable sense of impending doom. But putting the inevitable trials and tribulations of exams aside, it always strikes me that it is exam time and exam time alone which brings even the most nonchalant of students out of the woodwork.

Every year without fail an utter stranger appears in the exam room. It begs the question: what, if anything, have they been doing all year and why, having not managed to arrive at a single lecture or seminar, have they bothered to turn up at all?

I should probably set the record straight at this point and say I am by no means the perfect student. I haven’t attended all of my lectures and seminars. But I, along with 63% of students who took our Impact survey, do at least make a conscious effort to get there, health permitting. I attend those hideous Monday morning nine o’clock lectures because, at the end of the day, I am interested in my subject and painfully aware that I’m investing thousands of pounds in my education (or, for now, the government is).

Considering that all that is required of me in exchange is my attendance in the few contact hours I have each week and a bit of reading in my considerable spare time, I don’t think it’s too much of an ask. If you take into account how little time is really demanded of the average student, non-attendance in seminars and lectures is pretty poor.

Now I know that here many will ask, but what if those lectures and seminars are pointless? What if I don’t learn anything? According to our survey, 26% of students questioned cited this as the primary reason for their non-attendance in lectures. In some ways, they have a point. It is up to lecturers not only to educate, but also to inspire their students in their subject. It is not only the student but also the lecturer who must accept some culpability in this.

Of 90 students questioned, about 23% asserted that their primary reason for not turning up to lectures was that the subject didn’t interest them. Yet I know that there are some students who don’t turn up to lectures that are informative, interesting and which are worth turning up to.

The point is, that in any other instance, not turning up because you found the work boring or because you felt that you didn’t learn anything wouldn’t cut it. If you had a job, you wouldn’t be able to take the day off simply because you didn’t feel like coming into work that day. So why should university be any different? If university is meant to prepare you for the future, to instil in you all the necessary skills and knowledge for working life, should it not also be encouraging a sense of work ethic as well?

In sixth form we were constantly reminded of the apparent difficulties of getting into university. University places in general, were hugely oversubscribed, with courses such as medicine viewed as a pipe dream, tantalisingly out of reach for even the most intelligent of students.

I count myself extremely lucky to be one of those who made it; I am studying a subject I enjoy, at a university I love. Yet many are not imbued with the same enthusiasm.

Looking at these strangers appearing in the exam room, it does make me wonder, should these people be here? They are clearly intelligent individuals; they wouldn’t have got this far without a great deal of natural ability and yes, when it comes down to it, they will probably scrape through their university years. But will they have truly deserved it?

Perhaps for some people, life is too easy. University is a chance, an opportunity, that many, equally talented individuals have missed out on. The question is: are you making the most of the chance that you have been given?

Sarah Murphy

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