Education Quandary

Our student son's personal tutor has nothing to do with his course. How can he offer support?
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The Independent Online

This is obviously unsatisfactory. Most universities link their students to a tutor who is in some way related to what they are studying, and expect tutors to, at the very least, make sure they are known to their students. Sometimes, if there has been no meeting, it can be because the student has chosen not to turn up to it.

However, universities are crowded and poor, and corners are being cut all over the place. When staff members are given dozens of students to tutor, they can't give them much individual attention. And universities often farm out tutoring duties across a department in order to spread the load.

However, even if your son does not know his personal tutor, you should urge him to make an appointment to see him and talk through his difficulties. He could also try and see any of his lecturers who might be able to help. Then there are the student advice and counselling services, if the problems seem to be about more than just work.

In this kind of inadequate situation, students have to be highly proactive to get the support they need. Unfortunately, those in difficulties often find this is the last thing in the world they want to be.

Readers' advice

I have spent nearly 30 years in higher education, and I recognise the problem of a student who needs to discuss something but whose personal tutor is a distant, unknown figure. The doubling of the number of students in relation to staff, and the pressures to perform on research, have left contact between staff and students often strained and impersonal. I suggest that your son writes to his tutor, explains why he wants to see him, and gives him a list of times when he is free.
Lorraine M Harding, Yorkshire

Your son's department has a responsibility to ensure that he receives help, and one quick way to get a response would be to make an appointment to see the head of department.

Promotion depends on research, so it is unsurprising that pastoral care is neglected in some universities. This does not stop it being unacceptable.
Peter Lloyd, Stockport

The fact that your son's personal tutor teaches on a different course may be a great advantage; he will be impartial and will not be involved with marking his work. Your son may well find that his personal tutor is incredibly helpful and supportive if he takes the effort to contact him.

He needs to do this himself rather than asking his mother and father to ring on his behalf. Parents ringing to query a system that their son has not yet bothered to use are unlikely to help the situation.
John Fishwick, Senior Lecturer (and tutor to 15 students), Royal Veterinary College, London

Next week's quandary

Our daughter has decided to do English A-level. We were delighted - until she told us that she planned to take English language, not literature. This is a subject where she will read no books, but only look at things like how advertisements are worded. It is not a serious subject. How can we make her see this?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce by next Monday, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser