Enrolling students: in praise of university administrators

At the start of a new term, I look at my teaching timetable, and go to the room specified at the time specified. I suspect many academics do the same, and give little if any thought to the processes by which students come into the institution. They apply, they are made an offer, and if they achieve the necessary grades and still want to come, then they show up in my classroom. So I was interested when a friend who works at another university told me about her days spent enrolling new arrivals.

Like much administration, most of the work is pretty routine, and involves little more than smiling and checking that the records are accurate. So it comes as a surprise to learn that some students – not large numbers, but more than a handful – turn up without any means of confirming their identity. Even though the letter telling them where to enrol specifically asked them to bring identification, they are of course terribly indignant when told that they cannot enrol without it. In most cases they can simply go back to their room, and then rejoin the queue, but some have to wait for their parents to drive to the university.

A second group turns out not to have the qualifications they said they had gained. For most school-leavers, who apply through the central applications shceme, qualifications are checked automatically. Others apply directly, and some of these are not able to produce evidence of the qualifications they claim to have passed. Perhaps there might be a good reason for this, but – unless you are a refugee from a war zone – I can’t think what it is. Apparently one would-be student, on learning that she could not enter without showing that she had in fact got the A-level grades she claimed, then got her parents to complain to her local MP.

Then there was the new student who turned up in the morning to enrol and was already drunk. At least he was amicable, unlike the members of the other two groups. And there’s nothing in the rules to say that you have to be sober when you enrol. I wish I’d asked which subject he was taking – law, perhaps?

This is a side of university life that I rarely see or hear of. Most of my students are adult returners or post-experience professionals, and they are mostly a pretty sober lot. So for me, this came as an interesting insight into one small aspect of the work of my administrative colleagues. Behind that calm and efficient exterior there is always a back story.