2017-08-09 09:57:32 UTC
"There is still a mania that everyone should go to university and every endeavour should be a degree (whether sculpting or golf management). It’s had a very bad effect on education.
There’s an “everyone must pass” attitude, which is compounded by the “sick note” epidemic. The student who is currently suing Oxford University because it allegedly “didn’t take her anxiety seriously enough” isn’t an unusual figure.
Lecturers don’t like to speak out about this because life is precarious in the academic world, but in private I don’t come across anyone who disagrees with what I’m about to say. Here goes.
Almost every fourth essay you have to mark has a cover sheet pleading extenuating circumstances: Asperger’s, autism, anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dyspraxia. In my day, extenuating circumstances meant that your family had died in a car crash a month before your finals.
And if you don’t pass, no need to worry because you’ll almost certainly have the chance of a resit or a resubmission. Essentially, if you can be bothered to turn up, you’ll get a degree.
When I suggested to my department head that it might be beneficial to axe one or two students to gee up the performance of the rest, he commented, without any hint of irony: “We can’t fail them, because then they’d leave.”
I taught English literature for four years at Christ Church University in Canterbury. I taught some 120 first‑year undergrads, of whom I asked the question: “What is a sentence?”
Only six came up with the formula: subject, verb, object (and two of them were foreign students). They hadn’t heard of this grammar stuff. Some were even shaky on what an adjective is. And these weren’t physicists or business studies students, this was the literature class."
"And then of course the Equality Act, which requires Universities to make “reasonable adjustment” for those less able. What a gloriously flexible, litigious word “reasonable” is. Again, I doubt many academics will go on record with this, but I had experiences with students who had some “disorder” who were extraordinarily able in using their disability to their advantage.
It’s the job of a university to strive for excellence (although that’s tricky to define in the arts). This idea that a university is in some way in loco parentis or a carer obliged to wipe bottoms is misguided.
It’s wonderful if universities can provide that sort of extra-curricular support. But that’s not their purpose. It’s their job to set a high standard, and it’s the students’ to reach it, whatever their difficulties.
In the humanities we seem to have a system where many students pay a lot of money, learn very little and gain very little employability. The students I mentioned who are functionally illiterate represent perhaps only one per cent, three, five? But there they are, at university.
The real problem is the much larger group who don’t really have the tools to benefit fully from a course, which is quite often not that demanding.