Talkback:High student-staff ratios

Readers respond to last week's special report on the stresses in higher education
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The Independent Online
From JK Dunn Madam: Lesley Gerard's views concerning increased student numbers at universities and the lack of funding for this increase are doubtless shared by most lecturers in the UK. Kenneth Baker's goal of higher education for one in three by 2000, if fulfilled, will create a system of further education in this country not dissimilar from that operating in the United States. There are, however, a few points that warrant closer scrutiny.

The increase in student-staff ratios is critical, especially in vocational subjects such as medicine or veterinary medicine, where small group teaching forms an essential element of the course work. I suspect most lecturers involved in clinical teaching work considerably more than the 53 hours quoted in the report issued by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (80-100 hours is probably a more realistic estimate.) The solution may appear naive; an urgent injection of cash is required to improve current staffing levels and create new lectureship positions.

It may also have escaped the Government's notice that universities in the UK are not only understaffed and underfunded, but lecturers are woefully underpaid for the jobs they perform, especially if comparisons are drawn with their counterparts in the United States. The teaching unions suggest that there has been a 30 per cent reduction in real terms in the student fees paid to universities. The same figure, curiously enough, would be a conservative estimate of the decrease in real money terms in lecturers' salaries over the same period of time.

Yes, lecturers are being "tested to destruction". Their remit is not only to teach undergraduate and postgraduate students; they must effectively contribute to the research output of the university. It is a reflection of their professional integrity thatstandards of teaching have not been allowed to deteriorate. But for how long may this be expected to continue?

Yours faithfully JK DUNN Hardwick, Cambridge Do you have views on education.? Send your letters to the Education Editor, the Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL and include a daytime telephone number. Fax: 0171 293 2056.

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