Letter: Short and shallow

Click to follow
Sir: It may just be that those who favour the shortening of the time spent reading for a degree from three years to two genuinely believe that this can be done without a significant reduction in student academic achievement - but, if so, their view rests on a deeply impoverished notion of what is involved in reading for a degree (report, 24 September).

Of course, if all that were needed were to attend a certain number of lectures or tutorials, then undergraduate education would not be compromised if this number were to be squashed into two years rather than stretched over three. What is missing from this picture is the recognition that much of the work for a degree needs to be done in addition to formal tuition - and, in particular, during the vacations. University vacations are not holidays, either for students or their tutors.

The effect of shortening courses would be that students would have only two years rather than three to think about their subject. It would be fatuous to imagine that this would not result in graduates whose understanding of their subject was shallower than it now is and whose intellectual development was much less extended.

At a time when undergraduates are coming up from school less well trained than they used to be (a problem that is by no means restricted to those from state schools), the shortening of degree courses could only result in a withering of academic standards. Given that it would also interfere with the ability of academics to conduct research, the universities have a duty to fight any such proposals tooth and nail.

Yours faithfully,


Tutor in Philosophy

Balliol College


28 September