Letter: Ivory towers for women, too

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The Independent Online
Cambridge University's students' union should be careful when complaining that the supervision system militates against women students by rewarding the supposedly male qualities of confidence and assertiveness ("Cambridge students dispel myth of university's academic excellence", 9 February). Should the university reward timidity, deference and halting indecision? Only, I suggest, if market research reveals that those are the qualities that people go to Cambridge to develop.

Small-group teaching nurtures self-confidence by teaching men and women how to think for themselves, rather than how to become convincing compendia of others' ideas and prejudices. In one-to-one supervision, a student can test out ideas without inviting the derision of Henry-the-swot. Lasting self-confidence comes from intellectual competence, an agile and well- stocked mind and a relish for knowledge, which is fuelled by genuine curiosity about the world rather than by an introverted, solipsistic quest for "achievement". An "easy on the ladies" approach (call it positive discrimination or what you will) will not nurture that self-confidence. How could it, when its beneficiaries would suspect they had been indulged as their male equals were not?

Heon Stevenson

London N8

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