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Information for Parents
This page is intended to give you an idea of how things work at Lancaster University Law School. It contains advice on how you can help your offspring while they are students here, and also about what you, and we, can't do. Many of our students' parents have themselves been to university, but things have changed a bit over the last twenty years or so; quite a few other parents will not themselves have been to university and will not, therefore, have their own experiences to inform them. Moreover, every university has its own system to some extent. So if some of the information is a bit too basic for your needs, please don't take offence. If there is some other information you think would be useful on this page, please contact the Law School's Publicity Officer, Dr Richard Austen-Baker, who will endeavour to add something in.
What is University all about?
University is not like a very big school for the next stage of education - it is a totally different kind of institution. A university is, or should be, a community of scholars, to which students come in order to learn. They learn not, primarily, through being taught, but through independent study. Teaching is there to guide them in the right direction, to set them along the way, and to give them the chance to "compare notes" so to speak. University lecturers (at least at pre-1992 universities) are not primarily teachers - they are professional scholars who share the fruits of their scholarship with others through publications, reports, various forms of intellectual property, and only partly through teaching. The advantage to the student is that lecturers are not simply passing on second hand knowledge, but are themselves the researchers, thinkers, writers and authorities on the field of knowledge in question.
So, what do academics do to prepare students for exams?
A university, through the award of its degrees, declares to the world that the holder of the degree has reached certain standards of learning and skill in their chosen field. Universities set and mark their own examinations - the people who teach the students also examine them. It is not, therefore, like a school, where pupils are being prepared by their teachers to take externally set, marked and accredited examinations, and the job of the teacher is often seen as being to get the pupils through with the highest possible marks. The job of an academic, as far as teaching is concerned, is completely different: it is to inspire the students and to guide them in their own learning, and then to see how successful they have been. Students, and their parents, should not expect academics to be coaching students to succeed in university examinations - this would be self-defeating of the academic's role as an examiner. Students are at university to advance in learning in their chosen subject, not simply to jump through hoops to pass another set of exams. The only way to do well at university is actually to learn the subject, rather than trying to "beat" the examiner.
Aren't there external examiners then?
Yes, there are external examiners, but it's quite different from GCSE and A Level. External examiners at a university don't mark the exams - they look at a representative selection of already-marked papers and comment on whether similar marks would be gained for similar work at other universities they know about, particularly their own. They look over examination papers before they are finally approved, to check that they are of a similar standard to those elsewhere. They also advise on difficult cases, when asked to do so by the internal examiners. They are appointed for fixed terms, by the University itself and will be suitably qualified academics at other universities.
Are universities public?
Not really. Universities are independent educational charities, rather like "Public" (i.e., private) Schools. They gain their income from a variety of sources: home and overseas student fees, research grants from charities and research councils, research contracts from industry, charitable grants and bequests, investment income, student rents (mainly used to build and maintain the residences themselves), and some limited commercial activity. However, the government provides a proportion of universities' incomes, in order to subsidise the education of home and EU students and to generate research needed by the government and the economy generally. Because of this funding, universities are subject to some rules applying to properly public bodies, e.g., the Freedom of Information Act.
How many hours of classes will my daughter/son have each week?
This will depend a bit on his or her year of study and the modules s/he has chosen. A typical module will involve two hours of lectures a week and a 1 hour seminar or tutorial once a fortnight. Four modules are studied at once in the second and final years, and three in the first year. This means that a second or final year law student will typically have 10 hours of contact time each week, and a first year typically 9 hours. However, some courses have less contact time because the nature of the course is such that little contact time is appropriate (e.g., the dissertation option, in which students independently research a project and write a 15,000 word dissertation on it). Of these, lectures are not compulsory (though the sensible student makes an effort to attend most of them), whilst seminars, tutorials and supervisions are compulsory and non-attendance can lead to disciplinary action by the University authorities.
Is that all?
We expect that students will work about 35-40 hours a week in total - teaching is essentially guidance and introduction and discussion; the bulk of learning in a university is supposed to be done independently. You will probably be familiar with the phrase "reading for a degree in X" (if only from University Challenge - "Hello, I'm Jim Bloggs from Bognor, reading History"). It is best if students bear this in mind and think of themselves as "reading" for a degree.
Is there any pastoral oversight?
Yes - but it is not intrusive and depends on the student seeking it out. At Lancaster, students have two tutors: a College Advisor, who is very much concerned with the student's general welfare, and an Academic Adviser, in the Law School, who has both an oversight of academic issues, an advisory role (e.g., options to take, study techniques), and a pastoral role (all the issues that can be taken to the College Advisor can equally be taken to the Academic Adviser). Lancaster University has an excellent student welfare system, both "official" and through LUSU, the student union.
How can I find out how my son/daughter is doing?
You'll have to ask him or her. Since the age of majority was lowered to 18, students are adults. Both the Data Protection Act and our common law duty of confidentiality forbid us talking to you about your student son or daughter without their express permission. This includes their welfare (sadly), and things like their essay marks or exam results.
But I'm paying for his/her education!
Legally speaking, your son or daughter is paying for their education (or rather, making a contribution towards the cost of it) - where they get the money from is between you and them and any other funder, not for the University.
So - how can I help?
There are a few key things you can do for your student.
Remember s/he is now an adult, and an important part of the university experience is learning to live independently of their parents and to develop as young adults in their own right. Whilst some students need and appreciate your support and involvement, others will resent what they see as interference from over-protective parents. Mutual understanding and respect is essential to the successful transition to student life.
If you can help with the financial burden, that's great - the links on the right include a link to advice about fees, finance and living costs; but in short, it costs about £7,000 a year to be a student in addition to tuition fees. There is no reason why they should not take a part-time job, but it is undesirable if students need to do more than about 12 hours a week of paid work in term time (or in the Christmas and Easter vacations for that matter - they have essays to write and revision to do), or to work in jobs involving exceptionally late hours during the week - working in a pub or college bar is one thing, working until 2 or 3 in the morning at a nightclub is quite another. Moreover, there are only so many part-time jobs available suitable for students, so not every student who wants one will necessarily be able to get one. Alternatively, living like a monk with no money for a social life is not ideal either - s/he will miss out on another important aspect of university life.
Avoid trying to second-guess their needs - however well-intentioned you are. They will decide what books they need, for instance - it won't help them if you pick up a secondhand textbook which is a year or more out-of-date and might do more harm than good. Instead, ask them if there is anything you can do for them.
If things go wrong, be organized for them. If they are ill, or suffer a distressing event, such as the death or serious illness of a close relative, or some other crisis which may affect their performance, prompt them into letting their Academic Adviser (and their College Tutor) know about it so that account may be taken of it, and make sure they have evidence - we need supporting documentation wherever appropriate/practicable.
Encourage them to develop/maintain an interest in current affairs and the business world - the graduate jobs market is very competitive these days, and graduate employers of all kinds value "commercial awareness" and this needs developing or maintaining. You might help your son or daughter gain a competitive edge by, for instance, encouraging them to take out favourable student subscriptions to journals like The Economist (yes, even for law students) and to buy and read a quality daily paper - some of which are available at a considerable discount (e.g., The Daily Telegraph for 30p) from the newsagent on campus.
It is good if you remind them about looking for a career - a good graduate job takes work to find. If you can help with contacts - e.g., to get them some relevant work experience (say in a solicitors firm or a bank or some other commercial operation - but not flipping burgers!) this is very helpful. Do remember though - again - that they are adults, and what they really need from you is to be supported to make their own decisions.
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