After the recent tragic stabbing - suicide incident at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), schools and universities have come out with a flurry of reassuring statements, highlighting the extent to which they have been equipped to deal with student stress etc. The NTU's support services kicked it commendably as soon as they were aware of the tragedy. But NTU President Su Guan Ning pointed out in TODAY, that "We need to reach out a bit more, because sometimes (students) don't reach out at all." Quite obviously.
My take on this is that many of such services are largely cosmetic and are good only after the fact. They are really important as in this case, after the incident and when staff and students, plus their families need support. Unfortunately though, they are pretty useless as a preventive measure. Few students will spontaneously approach a counselling centre, or a counsellor to seek help. Worse, if it is to do with problems associated with their course, or the university itself. But there isn't much anyone can do to induce troubled students to come forward to seek help.
Universities have become simmering cauldrons of unresolved stresses. And it is getting worse. The student intake has screamed upwards to stretch current university resources. Coupled to this is the universities' relentless push towards academic excellence. High grade expectations, high rankings, high impact publications...all contribute to the pressure cooker environment that the students are placed in.
Underpinning this deteriorating situation is the universities' diversion of much needed student educational resources towards meeting its research/academic agenda. (I understand only a fraction of the education subsidy and student fees go to educational needs ... a significant portion go to high salaries of researchers and research infrastrcture). No one wants to admit this but it seems to be a formenting problem in the universities. Staff are recruited primarily to meet research missions (not teaching). Many high performing new staff have no interest in teaching, and are often 'excused' from teaching because of their research track record.
A final year NTU student I encountered volunteered that she has to complete an FYP (final year project) to graduate well. She was allocated a staff to supervise the project but her repeated attempts to meet the supervisor had been rebuffed or ignored. Time is running out for her, and now fraught with anxiety, she is forced to undertake the project without supervision. Woe betide her should her 'absent' supervisor fail her project. But what can she do?
Unless the universities become accountable to the public for the proper use of educational budget, to meet proper educational needs (not the public relations ranking nonsense....not the high visbility research nonsense), this problem will not go away, and will predictably, just get worse.
5 years ago