Why don’t they come?

When I was at university, for four years including my Master’s, I wasn’t a particularly good student. I tended to leave everything until the last moment and didn’t always read the material I was supposed to – relying on Cole’s Notes to steer me through the absolute breeze block that was Middlemarch.

But one thing that never occurred to me to do was miss a lecture, or a seminar (even when preparation for the latter had been hasty). In those four years I missed two lectures, one an introduction to computing – I had caught the bus in but decided I could use my time more productively – the second because I was ill enough to need antibiotics.

Yet during my 27 years teaching in higher education, I have seen a gradual increase in the number of students who seem to feel that attendance at taught sessions is less important, or possibly even optional. Sometimes, I am told, it is because of the pressure of assessments in other modules, though I have done my best to try to address issues of time management through various devices such as study guides and work books. Sometimes it seems to be the pressure of work, caring or commuting, the former in particular having increased over the years.

However, I also suspect that the increase in support that is offered may also be contributing. If the lecture is recorded, to help those who are absent due to illness, and those who may wish to review the lecture including audio input, some may feel that they can create their own timetable in the same way that streaming allows them to create their own TV schedule. Yet recorded teaching, as was clear from the remote learning forced by the pandemic, seems to be viewed as less valuable than live teaching (even when not attended).

We don’t just record lectures of course, we also supply library lists, web links to reports, articles and videos, study materials, quizzes and various other resources. We offer office hours, formative assessments with feedback for learning and respond to email questions. We focus on classroom activities to make them more fun and interesting in the hopes of motivating students to want to attend, all to little avail.

So, what should we do? Is the answer to introduce a minimum attendance requirement? There are professional courses that have these requirements but, in my experience, business schools seem to be reluctant to put what may be seen as another barrier to progression in place. Could we give marks for in-class participation that contribute towards the summative assessment or would that discriminate against those who are neuro-divergent, anxious or shy? If you have found an answer to this particular conundrum, or at least something that seems to help, then please do share with the community.


Roger Saunders CMBE is an Associate Professor and Module Leader in Marketing and Advertising at Leicester Castle Business School.