LETTER : Tutorial system at Oxbridge colleges

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The Independent Online
Professor Gabriel A. Dover

Sir: Trivial accusations of ignorance on each side of the Oxbridge-non Oxbridge divide lose sight of the central issue that Oxbridge colleges exclusively receive substantial sums for supposedly special "tutoring". As tutor for biology for 15 years at King's College, Cambridge, I saw a system change from weekly, one-to-one discussions based on thought-provoking topics to tutorial groups of not less than three, held for no more than six weeks a term with topics limited to the contents of the lecture courses. These restrictions were official policy of the College Tutorial Office, not only because of supposed financial limitations but because of the narrow, competitive desire to look good in the colleges' league table of examination success.

By contrast, the last three years at Leicester University has seen a shift from tutorial remedial work to adventurous discussion groups, student debates and journal clubs organised by academics, and enjoyed by supposedly "inferior" first-year students, who receive not one penny for such dedication.

The lie of the Oxbridge "special treatment" is particularly underlined at the graduate level. I supervised many PhD students, on whose behalf colleges received considerable extra annual fees, whereas the departmental laboratories, which are responsible for the greatest proportion of the intellectual and social development of science graduates and their future career prospects, receive nothing beyond a derisory bench fee.

The graduate and undergraduate fees received by Oxbridge colleges, arrogantly justified by them as "special treatment" not meted out elsewhere, are an academic embarrassment for many within the system, and bordering on a public scam for those outside the system .

Yours faithfully,


Department of Genetics

University of Leicester