Letter: Degrees of thought and talk

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Sir: Dr David West and Christina von Graevenitz (Letters, 28 and 30 July) are right to be irritated by the Government's decision to introduce tuition fees for students.

However, before someone quotes a case of a student who obtains a degree without attending any lectures and who is therefore charged an infinite sum "per working day", we must introduce a note of reality into such "simple mathematics".

Obtaining a degree involves a great deal of very hard and intellectually challenging work. Most of this work requires individual thought and reflection and therefore has to take place outside the lecture or seminar room. Students could make very little sense of degree level lectures if they did not spend time in the library and/or laboratory, and talking around their subjects with friends and staff. They also need to write essays and undertake project and dissertation work.

"Teaching" is a part of higher education, but only a part, and it is not the only part for which lecturing staff are responsible. That's what makes university different from school. If your correspondents think that education to degree level can be achieved without reading or revision time, or without examining and marking, then they are unreasonable.

Dr West is entitled to want value for money. Unfortunately, he must recognise the fact that universities are now suffering from years of neglect from a government addicted to a "something for nothing" mentality. The resources allocated per student have declined by 40 per cent.

Either the university system has to contract, or it has to decline into bankruptcy. Or it must allow standards to plummet, or the missing funds have to be replaced. There are no painless alternatives.

Please don't shoot the universities; they are doing their best. Show concern for the students who are paying for the tax cuts of the past. And please spare a thought for the university staff who have kept this ramshackle show on the road through the years of political moonshine.



Association of University Teacher

London W11