Janet Fraser cracked up while out shopping after she met one of her students who wanted advice. 'I just started ranting and raving. She didn't get advice, she got a mouthful.

Ms Fraser, a lecturer at Westminster University's school of Languages, said: 'I felt really guilty. The student was just being opportunistic. She had a problem and we do not have the time to give them the individual attention they need at university.

'When she saw me she seized the opportunity to get it sorted out. 'But it was 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.

'I was trying to do my shopping, before going home to mark a stack of papers. I felt as if I had no time of my own. I hit the roof, then felt terrible.'

Ms Fraser, who has worked as a lecturer for six years, is one of an increasing number of academics who are turning to counsellors to help them cope with the stress of the job.

'By going to counselling I realised that part of my stress is due to the fact that teaching is not the job it was when I entered the profession.

'The whole point of being a teacher or a lecturer is to be able to interact with students on a personal level - to help them to achieve the best they are capable of on their course. You cannot do that anymore.

'In my school we have had to change the teaching methods solely to keep up with the increase in the number of students.

'We have had to put the responsibility for learning on to the students themselves.

'But in order to teach themselves effectively, they need a tremendous amount of support from their teachers. Hence we have this ridiculous Catch 22 situation.

'Another pressure is that as more and more students finance their courses they feel cheated if they fail. They feel they own their courses, and that they have a right to their qualifications.

'As a result, there an increasing number of appeals against poor marks. In America, students take out litigation against their schools. I can see that happening here one day, said Ms Fraser.

'There is increasing pressure on lecturers to pass their students. I used to think teaching was the best job in the world. There are still days when it is, but those are fewer and further between.

'I feel I am grieving for something important that I have lost.