Letter: Lecturers weighed down by workload

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The Independent Online
Sir: The picture of universities painted by Helen Winnifrith ('Lessons for our lecturers', 23 June) is bizarre. Of course the small tutorial and seminar are vanishing. Numbers of academic staff since 1980 have increased by a mere 10 per cent yet they now teach 90 per cent more students, and the consequence of mass higher education, which is massively underfunded, is an erosion of small group and individual teaching.

The paradox is not that academics hide behind research activities but that these same pressures are cutting into research and scholarship. Research is not an optional extra in the UK or any university. It is integrally linked with high-quality teaching and is indispensable to postgraduate students. Nor does research await summer vacations - those who fear for our economic base, who wish to overcome limits on medical knowledge, who believe that we have much to do in the humanities, cannot accept that such problems can be resolved between August and September. In the new universities, far from eating into lecturers' teaching loads (which are substantial) the problem has been to secure a reasonable level of funding for research to take place.

As a matter of fact, the lecturers whom your contributor evidently despises have had their pay increased by 9 per cent from 1979 to 1994, while the average white-collar salary has risen by 54 per cent. No doubt they do work at home on occasions. Our research shows that they mark papers and prepare courses in the evenings and through weekends. The attribute they have in abundance is commitment to their students. Perhaps we would all do better if we recognised that national decisions to reduce what is spent on students by over 4 per cent per year for many years is what hurts them as much as it frustrates us.

Yours faithfully,

DAVID TRIESMAN

General Secretary, AUT

JOHN AKKER

General Secretary, NATFHE

AUT-NATFHE Confederation

London, W11

27 June

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