Letters: Lecturers have seen standards plummet

Share

Sir: Your front page headlines on the failure of the Government's education policies will shock many people (22 September); however, they come as little shock to myself and many thousands of lecturers in higher education.

I have been a lecturer for 20 years in a number of universities across Britain and I have witnessed a drop in academic standards so profound that the intellectual quality of degrees these days is akin to O-level standards of two decades ago.

In the university where I now work, we have to provide new students with basic writing, reading and study skills and even with this, they produce assignments which are, in many cases, illegible.

Their ability to critically discuss, analyse and evaluate is so poor that we now don't expect many of them to do anything other than basic description and this relates, not just to mature students or those from under-privileged backgrounds, but to a broad range of all students.

I also assess A-level exam papers and, once again, the system of "positive-marking" means that if pupils simply use certain buzz-words, they pass; we are not allowed to take marks off them for poor writing.

This situation is not helped by a recent trend in recruitment in many universities of employing lecturers whose academic qualifications consist of a 2:1 or 2:2 degree with no research profiles whatsoever.

The level of disillusion among many lecturers is unprecedented - if we complain about falling standards, we risk victimisation or losing our jobs. The future is very bleak indeed.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

Striving to attract state school pupils

Sir: It is with a sense of injustice that I note UCL's position among those universities once again under the spotlight for failing to attract more state school pupils (22 September), given that we continue to invest a great deal of time and money into our widening participation activities.

We do not do this with a view to ticking the right boxes, but because, as the first university to have admitted students from any race, class or religion, we believe it is both in line with our historic mission and the right thing to do.

I have two particular misgivings about the figures published by HESA. First, the benchmark that universities are measured against is, I believe, flawed. Whereas previously the potential pool for universities such as ours included only those who met our entrance criteria (generally three good A-levels), the goalposts have now been shifted. The new method for calculating the benchmark is based on the whole Ucas tariff, which means that according to this calculation top universities should consider eligible any pupil who secures a set number of points, regardless of whether these were achieved through the vocational or academic route. A university like UCL inevitably loses out as a consequence of this method of calculation.

Second, we cannot ignore the fact that, with the best will in the world, many of the courses that we teach face real difficulties in raising state sector participation. To use just one example; we were the first university to offer degrees in modern European languages, and continue to pioneer "smaller" languages such as Icelandic and Dutch. A government strategy that makes languages optional at the age of 14 will hardly assist a university committed to its language programme to take an increasing number of students from schools and areas that would improve our benchmarks.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL WORTON

VICE PROVOST, UCL LONDON WC1

Sir: It's abundantly clear neither the liberal press nor New Labour have grasped emergent social realities and instead retain an antiquated picture of education and its significance.

University education no longer guarantees "middle class" status, or even employment. This is why Liberal Arts graduates typically end up teaching, or stacking books. Graduate scientists typically earn far less than telesales managers and plumbers.

Our economy does not generate enough middle class jobs. Churning out graduates is pointless if only dead-end jobs are available. Schools cannot ameliorate entrenched social problems such as economic inequality and a youth culture that actively promotes anti-social aggression. As the political establishment has abdicated responsibility for social progress, education has to shoulder responsibility for myriad problems external to its real remit. Thus teachers are now unpaid child psychiatrists for the most fearsomely alienated youth in Western Europe, an onerous task for which they were never trained.

In truth, the education mantra is a neutralisation programme concocted to mask true unemployment figures and to dupe excluded youth into quiescence. Maybe those truants and college dropouts rejecting education simply perceive this more lucidly than the politicians and educationalists roped off from social reality.

JOHN KEANE

WARRINGTON

The English need a Parliament too

Sir: During the Labour Party conference, we'll hear much about Tony Blair's attempts to impose democracy on Iraq. Why isn't anyone pointing out how he has, at the same time, destroyed democracy in Britain? Since powers were devolved to Wales and Scotland, his policies only affect England, which is the only country that didn't vote for Labour. A union of countries cannot co-exist peacefully unless all are treated equally. England needs its own Parliament and equal access to democracy, with exactly the same powers as the Parliament Tony Blair gave his own country, Scotland. This discrimination must be corrected, because the systematic erasure of England is nothing short of a massive scandal.

DELLA PETCH

DRIFFIELD, EAST YORKSHIRE

Sir: John Vosper (Letters, 21 September) attacks Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats for supporting the break-up of the NHS and suggests that they will lose votes to the Labour.

The break-up of the NHS was signalled in July of this year by the NHS chief executive, Sir Nigel Crisp, in a letter to NHS Trust Chief Executives. Using ill-defined concepts such as "choice" and "contestability" to disguise the nature of the policy, the break up of the NHS as a provider of health care in the UK is already Labour Party policy. The Health Service Journal recently described a district nursing service in the south of England being prepared for privatisation; primary care trusts are being given deadlines by their strategic health authorities to divest themselves of their provider departments, such as community nursing, mental health services and health visiting.

I presume we will discover in Brighton whether other Labour supporters are aware of what their government is doing to the National Health Service and whether they are bothered.

TIM WOODWARD

HEYSHAM, LANCASHIRE

Kennedy could be PM-in-waiting

Sir: Steve Richards' comparison of Charles Kennedy and Harold Wilson was instructive (Opinion, 23 September). As a student in the early 1970s I was impatient with Harold Wilson's equivocation over the War in Vietnam. Thirty years on I recognise that his manoeuvrings in the face of pressure to send troops to join the United States forces was far preferable to a Blair-style capitulation. Looking back in 2035 a young person of today may judge that Kennedy's leadership allowed the Liberal Democrats to become a party of government. For that prediction to come true Mr Kennedy will need to show the same courage in leading the political debate as he has done in opposing the occupation of Iraq.

IAIN BRODIE BROWNE

BIRKDALE, MERSEYSIDE

Tories should back EU extradition

Sir: With the return of London bombing suspect Hussain Osman to our shores (report, 23 September), it's time for the Tories to rethink their stand on the European arrest warrant.

Without this crucial EU-wide agreement, it would have taken years for Britain to secure Mr Osman's extradition from Rome. So perhaps the Tories could explain why they so violently opposed this measure when it was first introduced? Was this yet another case of anti-European posturing in an attempt to appeal to the eurosceptic fringe, or did they have genuine doubts about its effectiveness?

If the latter, no doubt they will now be quick to admit their error and clarify their revised position on European judicial co-operation?

RICHARD CORBETT MEP

(YORKSHIRE AND THE HUMBER, LAB) LEEDS

Faith schools will cement divisions

Sir: Trevor Phillips, of the Commission for Racial Equality, is right to raise the issue of rapidly separating communities in this country (report 22 September). The creation of ghettos is always dangerous, but even more so in the present climate of suspicion and paranoia.

In order to pre-empt the further hardening of this separation, the Government needs to urgently change two of its policies. The first thing it should do is stop encouraging whole communities from identifying themselves by their religion. This practice allows the most conservative theocrats to pose as "community leaders", when there are huge sections of the communities they purport to represent which have no interest in religion. The Government must consult much more widely among Muslims. At present it assumes them all to be mosque-going, Koran-reading faithful. Our experience is that this is far from the case.

The Government's second error is the encouragement of the expansion of single faith schools. The news that 150 Islamic schools are to be brought into the state sector is profoundly depressing, but it is difficult to refuse this request when so many Christian schools receive state funding. Separating children from each other on the basis of their parents' religion is asking for disaster. Mr Blair's enthusiasm for "faith schools" is leading us to educational apartheid.

We know there is little hope that New Labour will heed either of these suggestions, but by not doing so, it is aggravating a problem that will, in the future, pose a threat to us all.

TERRY SANDERSON

VICE-PRESIDENT NATIONAL SECULAR SOCIETY LONDON WC1

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links