Can't reel off names of dead monarchs? Too bad

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I am writing in response to the article by Rob Lowe in Education+ ("Today's student is a tourist, not a traveller", 19 February).

There are many different kinds of "intellectual" intelligence which are present in different combinations in different people, and the lack of any one of them in a school leaver does not necessarily mean that the individual is "thick" or unworthy of a place at an "historic institution". Nor is a child necessarily stupid, or his attempted education a waste of public funds, merely because he can reel off lists of footballers or of musicians (which no one asks him for) rather than dead monarchs.

Of course, students will sometimes stay in bed (occasionally, in my experience, having their best ideas there), and make grammatical errors. But I would prefer to work with a bright and original student, whose grammatical errors can easily be corrected - and who knows where to find the Encylopaedia Britannica if ever a list-obsession should overcome him - than with an unoriginal student whose memory for dead monarchs and irregular verbs is perfect.

Heon Stevenson, London N8

Just sticking it out

I am writing to congratulate you on an article you featured (29 January) about the disappointment that many students face when they get to university and realise it isn't quite the life of fun and frivolity they were promised.

I also hated university when I joined in September, and still cannot wait until it is all over. I feel I can't drop out and try again later with a bit more work experience behind me, because the introduction of tuition fees would mean it would all amount to a rather expensive mistake.

Still, with things as they are, I suppose it's back to Tesco for the summer and studies in the winter. It's only for two more years.

Amy Bastow, Cumbria

PhD frustration

I read with interest and sympathy Su-yen Thornhill's letter about life as a PhD student. Thankfully, although my experiences were similar, I managed to complete my research and my PhD was awarded last year.

Throughout the course of my studies there were a number of aspects which were unsatisfactory, but there seemed to be no mechanism to air grievances.

After completing a master's degree, which I financed myself, I applied to the British Academy for a major scholarship to undertake a PhD in theology at a college of London University. The British Academy financed my studies for three years full time. I do not know how much they paid to the college for supervision, library and common-room services, but I guess it was a considerable amount. I completed writing my thesis in the fourth year of study while working full time and paying a "writing-up fee", and more than 10 months after I submitted the thesis it was eventually examined.

During this whole period, I met my supervisor 18 times. Rarely did those meetings last more than an hour. For every meeting I produced a piece of work to discuss. I was the one who set all the deadlines and met every one of them. A couple of times when I met my supervisor he had not even read the work I'd submitted, and the meetings were a farce.

During my period of study, only three postgraduate seminars were organised and one of them was one I gave. The college library did not have the materials I needed, and did not at that time offer an inter-library loan service to students. All the books I needed I bought myself from the USA. Yet the library was being paid for this.

At the end of the first and second years I had to write a report of my work for the British Academy. My supervisor and head of department had to complete sections on this form. Each year I gave them the form in plenty of time and each year the college missed the deadline for returning it.

Finally, after the thesis was submitted it took more than 10 months for it to be examined. In this time I chased the supervisor, the academic registrar of the college, the examinations department of London University and the academic registrar of London University. When the examiners were eventually appointed, there was another delay, and I even received a telephone call from one of the examiners asking me what was happening.

I knew that postgraduate research in the humanities could be a lonely business, but I thought I could at least expect support from the college and value for the money being paid by the British Academy. I felt I got neither.

Dr Paul M Pearson

ILO Library, RNTNE Hospital, London WC1

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