At the Freshers’ fairs in September 2012 EDU staff and members of the EDU Student Forum asked students on each campus to answer this question for us:
‘What do you hope to get out of being at university?’
Our students have high hopes about their overall experience at university, and about the ways in which this will help them build good futures. The 432 post-its we collected give a snapshot of great expectations with some dominant themes.
Its probably no surprise that employment featured very strongly in students’ responses; taken together, comments about jobs, career and vocation featured on 40% of our post-it notes, described in ways which express high aspirations about success in worthwhile careers. Friendship, learning, skills and personal development and qualifications are also important for our students, while references to money were few and far between. There is also a clear sense in these responses that students have great expectations about the experience of being a student per se, ‘uni life’, taken as a whole, and this seen also in the significant number of postings which named multiple hopes.
Some of the postings (nearly 10%) express broad aspirations and future hopes through words like ‘success’ and ‘achievement’, without any other specific detail or application. Some of these talk about a ‘good life’, ‘happiness and security’; the ‘bright’ future, prospects and ‘opening doors’. Three talk about the realisation of dreams and one hopes ‘to make the world a better place’.
‘I hope to build properly and successfully my future’
The analysis below summarises the main themes which emerged. The headings used are my own categorization, not the students’, and they summarise responses from all 3 campuses taken together. Percentages indicate how many post-its, of the total set, included comments in this category.
Employment, career, vocation 40%
The most frequently used words were to do with employment, career and/or vocation. Nearly 40% of our post-it notes talked about such hopes, often mentioned alongside others such as education, experience, or friends. An explicit link between a degree/qualifications and employment was made in some comments, and was most evident in the responses from Medway campus.
But our students aren’t hoping simply for jobs: most of these aspirations are further described with words such as ‘good’, ‘great’, ‘rewarding’ or ‘enjoyable’ or ‘stable’.
About a third of these responses were career-specific, with the highest proportion of career-specific comments being at Avery Hill, where students expressed the hope of being ‘the best’ in a profession, of being ‘amazing’, ‘changing lives’, ‘inspir(ing) a generation’. Students who responded on the Greenwich campus were the least likely to talk about employment, career or qualifications.
‘to gain more knowledge and experience in order to be the best in my chosen career’
‘I want to teach and inspire’
‘a first class honours and a good job’
‘a foundation to build a career future on ‘
‘a job I’d love’
‘a long career in the film and tv industry’
‘getting my degree and a stable career forever’
Qualifications and academic success 13%
Qualifications and academic success are cited as a hope in some (9.5%) of the employment/career/vocation responses, but are also stated without this explicit link in another 13% of our responses, this being the case most frequently at the Medway campus and least frequently at Greenwich. For many of our responding students, this is stated simply as a ‘degree’ or (sometimes) ‘qualification’; some expressed the hope of achieving a good/high or first class degree, most often at Medway, and least often at Avery Hill. Success in exams or good grades were mentioned, with one student aiming high academically for ‘A piece of work published nationally’.
‘at least a 2:1’
Many of the hopes students identified were far less concrete and expressed in terms of ‘experience’ or ‘experiences’, without being linked explicitly to the other categories here, and frequently described as ‘new’, ‘good’ or ‘exciting’. In occasional comments, experience/s were specified – e.g. parties or work experience – but in most cases they seem to be expectations about the experience of being a student taken as a whole, as seen in a few comments about ‘uni life’ or ‘the student life’. The word ‘fun’ was used, most often on the Greenwich campus and very often linked with other hopes (friends, experience, learning).
‘have fun, enjoy, learn, make friends’
‘an amazing lifetime experience’
‘an experience that will broaden my knowledge and open many door for the future’
‘a new life experience’
‘experience I didn’t have when I was eighteen’
‘to experience one of the best things ever’
Learning, skills and personal development 22%
Another word-cluster seen in the responses was to do with education, learning, knowledge and skills. Most of these comments were not related to specific discipline areas. Some of the comments about skills are specific (critical thinking, communication skills and English language skills); some of them are linked to careers or employability, but there are also some broader comments about hoping for one’s mind to be broadened, to gain ‘a new perspective on life’.
There are also hopes expressed about development of personal characteristics such as independence, professionalism, confidence and maturity;
‘Be a confident practitioner’
‘new doors opening through knowledge’
‘getting the knowledge and confidence to achieve my dreams’
‘becoming a well-rounded person’.
‘develop as a person & meet/have new experiences and friends’
‘an experience that will broaden my knowledge and open many doors for the future’
Forming relationships was an important expectation in 17% of our post-it responses, frequently mentioned alongside other hopes such as fun, experience and learning. This social expectation was usually expressed in terms of friendship, the word ‘friend/s’ generally being qualified by words such as ‘new’, ‘good’ and ‘lifelong’. In some cases (12% of this group) words like network or contact are used, some of these comments being related specifically to employment.
‘have fun, enjoy, learn, make friends’
‘a degree, an amazing lifetime experience, meeting new life-long friends, a successful job’
‘beside getting my degree, I’m here to make the most of it by socialising and making acquaintances’
‘to build an academic & social circle to ensure my future’
‘money, wisdom, a couple of mates’
Money was mentioned only in a few responses – though it should be noted that some of the responses talking about employment or career specify ‘stability’, which may be linked to finance. Medway students mentioned money more frequently than those at Avery Hill or Greenwich, with debt and bill-paying being mentioned. Money was more linked to bill-paying and employment (eg. ‘better job’) at Avery Hill than at the other two campuses.
‘A decent job which pays the bills’
‘a bigger pay packet’
‘buy a house with a garden’
‘I’ve no idea’
‘I don’t know yet’
‘to become something’
‘insight to the best career option’,
‘a clear idea of what I want to do next’,
‘to find out what I want to do’.
This quick analysis of students’ responses suggests that our current institutional strategies are in line with students’ expectations; thorough embedding of the Greenwich Graduate initiative and of employability strategies are supported by students’ prioritizing of future career hopes. The emphasis on building community, seen in both the university’s new Strategic Plan and the Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy, is consonant with students’ hopes for a great overall experience which includes the learning, friendship and fun and personal development which will lead them into a ‘bright future’.
The Strategic Plan talks a culture of high aspiration and expectation. This small snapshot of some of our new students’ expectations suggests that they certainly arrive with high hopes, expecting foundations and formation for the future; the onus is on us as a university – working in partnership with students – to provide opportunities for them to maximize their potential and realize these high hopes and dreams.
The wordles below indicate the variation seen between the three campuses, with different top priorities emerging: