The age of innocence?

As students arrive in their various universities and prepare for a new academic year, spare a thought for freshers some of whom, apparently, hardly know how to get out of bed unaided. According to a survey carried out by supermarket group Sainsburys, some students don’t know how to boil an egg, have no idea how to clean a bath, have never operated a dishwasher themselves, are completely innocent of any knowledge of finance or banking, and cannot get a fix on how to pay a bill. In short, they lack pretty much any of the life skills needed in order to walk out of the front door without holding someone’s hand.

In my experience most students are rather more savvy than that, and are considerably less innocent of knowledge of everyday life. However, it is wise to remember that many students will find their first days at university to be a daunting experience, with less of the support and guidance at every step that they are used to. It is therefore important to tell them and then remind them that they need never be alone, and that in universities there is always someone to turn to for help. For some the transition to higher education can be lonely, and so an appropriately friendly word or gesture can make a difference. Most students will flourish in their new environment very quickly, but they may benefit from a little help at first. Be patient with them, and never treat a question as stupid.

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6 Comments on “The age of innocence?”


  1. Just because you haven’t done something before doesn’t mean you cannot do it. Why would many school-leaving students in a family home have ever paid a utility bill or paid rent? I’m guessing the survey asked if students had ever done this before, rather than if they felt capable or ready to do so.

    11% say they don’t know how to cook. But what does ‘cook’ mean? What question was asked? If asked “Do you know how to cook?” that’s a rather subjective question. Does that make 89% of students potential chefs?

    And just because boiling an egg is considered easy, that doesn’t mean we should worry about the 14% that haven’t boiled one. Perhaps some of that 14% are vegan. Perhaps some of that 14% don’t like eggs. Perhaps some of that 14% are too busy scrambling and frying their eggs instead!

  2. Vincent Says:

    Forgive me, but I’m very wary of those within any institution making any statement about those entering the precincts for the first time.
    I can remember well those first few weeks at UCG of sainted memory, when I was both confused and utterly isolated. -UCG/NUI,G of all the universities or colleges I’ve been inside has the smallest and simplest of geometric designs for it’s footprint, but then some demented soothsayer got involved.- The latter now thankfully recognised as a fairly general malaise and something is done to salve it somewhat. Mind you it took them long enough and more than once picking the unfortunates from the beaches of the bay. On the confusion, all I’ll say is that I do hope that the SU has continued to bring freshers to the fees & accommodation office, the dining halls, computer services, the bar & SU during an orientation day.
    The university, couldn’t have hidden some of those places better if they were actually trying. And certainly couldn’t have put them further apart. Oh, how many names has each building within your system. You may find you need a Naming Commission when you discover most buildings have three officially and another five in general use at the very least.

  3. Steve Button Says:

    Students are completely molly coddled today by University admissions and have no idea of how to do even the most basic things. They may be more world savvy regarding getting drunk and partying but their level of real maturity and basic common sense has declined.

    Is this yet another pointless survey to justify some Academics job? Are they telling us what as parents we alreday know?

    I have three children at University. One son just starting 3rd year has lived away for two years. He jas learned to cook in order to survive. Twin daughters are just starting 1st year Nursing and will be off into the world in January for Hospital placement. They have a lot of growing up to do but I am confident that they will be OK.

    Just chill out parents, get a grip and advise them accordingly.

  4. Anna Notaro Says:

    the age of innocence or the student as the ‘bon sauvage’?

  5. Jilly Says:

    I broadly agree with Martin above that this survey probably doesn’t tell us anything very useful. Of course most 18yr-olds don’t have much experience of food-shopping or cooking, paying bills etc. It doesn’t mean they won’t learn, and fast (seriously, how hard is it to figure out how to clean a bath?!).

    When I left home at 18, I’d never paid a bill, done any real cooking or paid an electricity bill. However, I was completely undaunted by this, since for the first time ever it would up to me to decide whether to have beans on toast for dinner 5 night running, or whether or not the bath needed cleaning. Inevitably I ate badly and lived in squalor for several years, but regarded this as a perfectly fine trade-off for the independence.

    And it’s that independence which is such a crucial part of being at university – it informs students’ attitudes to their study as well. So I would be much less worried about the 18yr-old currently standing in front of a washing-machine trying to figure out how it works (and possibly failing!), than about those new students who continue living at home, and don’t have to learn any of this stuff. That’s what is most likely to lead to the molly-coddled student Steve talks about – and more importantly, leads to students who don’t conceive of university as a massive change from school.

    • bethduff Says:

      Well said, Jilly. I did much of my growing up at university and quickly learned the consequences of my choices, both good and bad, whether about studying or life in general. In retrospect, that was worth at least as much as the degree.


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