We asked Edi students what they think about their personal tutors

‘I literally never see mine’

Whilst Edinburgh University has a page on their website discussing the purpose and importance of personal tutors, I can’t help but feel let down by my experience with personal tutors. I’ve had three different personal tutors over the course of my three years at university. The first year, I met my tutor once in the first week. I emailed him a few times to discuss a few queries I was having, and never got a response. My second year, I communicated with my personal tutor via email but never met with her in person. My third year, I emailed my tutor asking for help with an essay I was struggling with and didn’t receive a reply.

If my personal tutor is supposed to “provide guidance and support”, why do I not feel supported? If I email my personal tutor, why should I have to hope I’ll get a response? Shouldn’t it be guaranteed?

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Ultimately, the term ‘personal’ is seriously lacking from personal tutor. Having one tutor each year and seeing them once a year isn’t even remotely personal. My tutor hardly knows my name, let alone what I look like, my interests and my struggles. It is concerning that the university thinks this is acceptable, particularly as mental health concerns are so prevalent at the moment.

As a humanities student, I am already lacking in contact hours. Seeing three different course tutors once a week for two hours doesn’t create lasting relationships, especially when I never see them again after the semester. The most I could do is to have a relationship with my personal tutor, but I don’t. The impersonality of it all makes me feel very insignificant.

I thought to myself that I couldn’t be the only person who felt this way. So, I asked around to see what other students thought about their personal tutors, asking all years and numerous subjects to see if it there were any differences.

Here’s what they had to say…

Laura, 3rd year Philosophy: 

“The first meeting I had with my personal tutor in Freshers’ Week, she told me not to come to her for any academic support. She said, quote: “I’m like a head teacher, you wouldn’t go to your head teacher with a problem about your essay”. I was genuinely so scared and put off by her that I never saw her again. Luckily, I have a new personal tutor now”.

Alice, 1st year English Literature:

“I met my personal tutor on the first week of Freshers’ for ten minutes. I can’t even remember his name because I’ve only seen him the one time. Before I left the room, he joked: “You’ll probably never see me again”. He wasn’t wrong!”

Euan, 3rd year Chemistry:

“I emailed him to see what he thought about changing from the master programme to the BSc, it’s been two weeks and he still hasn’t responded. The deadline to decide is within the next few days, so that’s great!”

Kirti, 2nd year Geography and Politics:

“Since being at university I have had 3 different personal tutors. I only ever met each one once, before I was unknowingly passed onto a different tutor before my next semesterly meeting. I don’t feel like I have ever got to know any of them well, nothing beyond the polite introduction of meeting a new teacher for the first time”.

Imogen, 3rd year Business:

“The (rare) times I see my personal tutor I do genuinely feel supported by him…that’s when he’s not off on 3-week holidays every semester”.

Jamie, 2nd year Engineering:

“My personal tutor is about as useful as a chocolate tea pot”.

Max, 1st year Biomedical Sciences:

“I really like my personal tutor. She’s really proactive with organising the meetings and she’s really helpful with providing information about my course”.

Jo, 3rd year Law:

“I’ve personally had a great experience with my personal tutor. I feel like I can ask for help whenever I need, and that she truly cares about my academic and mental well-being. However, it does seem like my experience is quite unique. No one else I know seems to have had as positive an experience.”

Anna, 4th year Medicine:

“My tutor is lovely, but I haven’t seen him this year. However, I saw him once a year before that. He gave us a lecture last week, so I went to say hi and he had no idea who I was. It was so awkward”.

Maddie, 3rd year History:

“I literally never see mine”.

Flora, 2nd year English and Philosophy:

“I’d say as a joint honours student I found the personal tutor system to be quite a difficult dynamic. When I approached my tutor with questions about year abroad applications, he seemed to be totally unaware of the process for joint honours. I understand this isn’t their key role but some insight into how that worked would have been helpful. I find overall the university seems to lack guidance for joint honours as most of the people I’ve spoken too, whether that be personal tutors or exchange coordinators seem to simply refer me to other people who are equally uninformed”.

Some final thoughts…

The responses I received indicate that most students have had similar experiences with their personal tutors. The general consensus was that personal tutors know very little about the students they are supposed to be offering support to. Now, I’m not saying that all personal tutors are bad. Some of the responses I received were very positive, and lots of students stated that their tutors were friendly people. However, why should a minority of people have a good experience whilst the majority do not?

Personal tutors should have a genuine concern for their students otherwise they should just be called tutors. It is clear that something needs to change. This could be by increasing the number of personal tutors that are available, so there are less students per tutor, or increasing the number of times we see our tutors in a semester. I’m not sure what the right solution is, but I know that the impersonality of university (especially for humanities students) is not right and should not be ignored.

We pay £9000 a year. I pay £9000 a year for six contact hours a week. The university should at least ensure that personal tutors respond to student emails…