Letter: The student's key to academic success

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The Independent Online
Sir: Eric MacFarlane in his article on the quality of lectures in higher education ('Don't just lecture me, teach me something', 25 February) appears to believe that these are the primary means of student learning.

There is no doubt that lectures, seminars, workshops and laboratory classes play important roles in the acquisition of knowledge and the emergence of understanding. However, by far the most important factor is the individual student's own motivation. Students who independently study in the library and actually read the journal articles and books recommended in their lectures and seminars will rapidly develop a sound knowledge and good understanding. Sadly, independent study of this sort is becoming increasingly rare.

Instead, many students seem to believe, rather like Mr MacFarlane, that their institution 'owes them an education' and that if only the teaching were better they would, as if by magic, become 'educated'. But the (un)surprising truth is that in higher education, as in all areas of human endeavour, any achievement ultimately and crucially depends on the commitment and efforts of the individual. An institution cannot do it for you, and no matter how 'good' the lecturers and their lectures, students will be disaffected and underachieve if they are not prepared to work.

In short, it takes two to learn: the effective and supportive institution and the motivated and committed student. To understand the complex interaction of student and institution, and the effects of this upon education, we will require research of a far higher calibre than the questionnaire referred to by Mr MacFarlane. Moreover, we will need a theoretical analysis which amounts to more than a few folk beliefs about lecturers and their lectures.

Yours sincerely,


Department of Psychology

University of Lancaster


26 February