Preparing students for higher education

Over the past four weeks or so the various universities and colleges in this part of the world have been welcoming their new students and introducing them to the campus and their programmes of study. Induction or orientation now forms an important part of what most universities do at this point. Doing this, and doing it well, is more than just an act of politeness or kindness to students as they enter higher education; it is a vital part of student support, and it plays a major role in the drive to prevent students from dropping out.

For those of us whose student days are now something of a distant memory it is important to note how alien higher education is for students whose recent educational experience has been in secondary schools. Gone is the regimented organisation of the day, gone is the encouragement of rote learning. They are now replaced – or so it is intended – by independent learning and autonomous decision-making, and by analysis and critique. This is not just something new, these are wholly different worlds. Many students make the transition easily enough and find the new environment liberating, but some don’t and find it intimidating or lonely.

For universities it can sometimes be irritating that they must devote the initial period of a first year programme to remedial education in which students are encouraged to unlearn much of what was drummed into them only months earlier. It is increasingly obvious that secondary education as currently practised is a particularly bad form of preparation for tertiary education, which reinforces the need for a radical reform of the final school years. But for the moment we are where we are, and so it is vital to have an induction or orientation programme that allows students to feel their way into higher education, to understand its purpose and methods, and to do so as part of a mutually supportive community of students and lecturers.

Some universities also place relevant information online for students. Here are some examples: NUI Galway, DCU, Robert Gordon University, University College Cork. In the case of some other universities I found it quite hard to get this information from their websites.

It is also very important to keep a close eye on students during the initial period of study to see how they are coping with the new environment, and to offer them support if they are finding it difficult.

The main issue is however that the transition from secondary schools to higher education should not be so difficult. It is time for us to address this properly, and to ensure that the curriculum for final school examinations and the learning methods employed at that level are more closely aligned with the aims and methods of universities and colleges. Right now it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the final stages of secondary education are not fit for purpose.

Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, university

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4 Comments on “Preparing students for higher education”

  1. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    UL are approaching on this using FB;

  2. Vincent Says:

    And not a word from NUI,Galway about County Councils waiting ’til god knows when before they hand over the Grant. Not a word about going to a bank and getting an advance on that cheque. You know; useful stuff.
    The whole tone of the thing much like Cois Coiribe the alumni mag, that of a husband buying a vacuum-cleaner for the wife’s birthday.

  3. Al Says:

    There is any argument to be made that too much is being done for students and this doesnt promote independance and the development of life skills that come from attempts at independent living…

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