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26 November, 2003

Follow up: Socialise, or...

In case anyone's been waiting with bated breath, the missing student has been found, at his parents' home. He's been struggling with his course, and plainly isn't getting the vaguest support from his flatmates, so ran away from it all. It doesn't look like he's returning, or if he does it's rather too late to change degree course, so he might need to take a year out and start something new next year.

I believe this is something on which the UK and US higher education system differs. In the UK, a potential student applies to study a specific subject, such as Physical Geography. If accepted, in his/her first year the workload is usually divided equally three ways, between his/her admitting subject and two others; the student gets to choose the secondary subjects (within slight limitations), but the course units in all three subjects are compulsory. Hence, someone registered to study Physical Geography, and also taking Part One Human Geography and Geology, can't take a course unit in, say, Fine Arts.
In Part Two (years two and three), the student drops two subjects (one of which could conceivably be the admitting subject) and studies one as Major. He/she chooses from a range of course units - but within the Major subject alone.
Some courses are more restricted; Medicine, for example, demands 100% of a student's workload in Part One, so there are no Minor subjects. Other Majors only permit relevant Minors.
The negative side of all this is that sometimes a student finds a subject just isn't for him/her, but can't readily switch. As I understand it, the US system is based on credits, whereby the student chooses individual course units, and builds a degree from credits attained by passing those courses. If a student finds a course unit isn't in a subject he/she wants to pursue, it only affects that unit, and the student needn't take any more in that topic area. Not so in the UK - undergraduates have to specialise.

So, the student is alive and well, if stressed and unhappy. That doesn't diminish my concern at his flatmates' attitude - he's okay, but he mightn't have been. Students do go missing; within the last couple of years a very similar situation concluded with the body of a missing student being found in a ditch, and the two suicides on campus within the last year are just those I know about.
To put it in formal terms, the University, and College, has a duty of care to its students, but the students also have a duty of care to one another.

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