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Scrap the stern emails: students with high absence rates need support

By Ella Devereux Dec 2, 2021
Stressed person holding a book to her faceUniversities need to offer students a safe space to speak about their problems. Photo: Siora Photography on Unsplash

As we enter the darker winter months, characterised by cold mornings and daylight saving, it can feel harder to embrace the commute to university.

Attendance at nine o’clock lectures is noticeably sparser in winter, as everyone battles to get themselves out of bed. As a result, it is unsurprising when you become the recipient of a few stern ‘poor attendance’ emails from lecturers.

At what point does poor attendance become a more serious matter for the university?

In the general student regulations 2021/22 document for Kingston University, it states that where “engagement is identified as causing concern the university will write to you to offer academic guidance and to remind you that failure to engage may result in the termination of your registration.”

On the surface this seems fair, given that there is little point in paying for a degree which you are not engaged with.

But to students who are not attending because their mental wellbeing has deteriorated – this statement is likely to increase the quantity of negative thoughts already swirling around their heads.

This statement enforces a feeling of wrongdoing within any student, and a telling off is the last thing that some require.

Not only is this threat unwarranted, arguably, it is hollow. After all, what university would kick a student out when they can squeeze £27,000 out of them over three years?

Repeated poor attendance can become an inescapable cycle

As someone who had around 50 per cent attendance in my first year, I know that repeated poor attendance can become an inescapable cycle.

If you spend enough time away from lectures, it feels like there is no feasible way to catch up.

I have often felt that stern “where were you today?” emails make a generalisation about absence. There really is no telling why someone didn’t come in.

This generalisation can be dangerous, much akin to the hollow threats of academic termination, it they can create a feeling of wrongdoing within a person, even when you know if you had the means, you would have attended that day.

Personal tutors need to offer guidance and support

However there is a lifeline offered to students in the form of personal tutors.

The success of this relationship feels somewhat based on luck, as students who will never cross paths with their personal tutors in lectures may feel reluctant to go to these individuals with problems in personal or academic life.

This relationship can be most effective if tutors can offer guidance and support to students who admit that they are struggling.

If we want to get students back into the classroom we need to support them, not punish them

This demonstrates, then, that the best way to break the cycle of poor attendance is to offer students a safe space to speak.

Rather than treating all students as wrongdoers, treat all students as people who might be struggling and in need of a helping hand.

Of course, we need to strike a balance between this approach to frequenting absentees whilst ensuring that the academic achievement of other’s is not affected.

Students will naturally be encouraged to break the cycle of non-attendance if they feel like they are coming back into a space which is non-judgemental.

If you have been affected by anything in this article, and you want to reach out for professional support, this resource below from Mind is very helpful for how to talk to a GP about your mental health.

You can also contact the Samaritans at any time on 116 123 or visit Kingston University’s wellbeing pages.

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