Tuesday, March 17, 2009

University challenge

We wake to the shock news that university chancellors want an increase in students' tuition fees. Obviously, if the BBC had bothered putting the same question to every other service provider in the UK, they would have said the same thing. Here, in case government is paying attention, is how I would deal with the problem. Agree to the increase on the condition that university courses are shorter and more intensive. That might mean a two-year course with four terms a year and no increased cost to the student. The universities will either adopt this solution or go strangely quiet, as they do when anything is proposed that might upset the academic lifestyle.


  1. This is nice idea but it doesn't take into account the dual nature of University work. As an academic you are expected to research as well as teach. The University year is structured as such. The long summer months, which I hoped would be my chance to lay in the grass and read Proust, are actually the time when you catch up on all the work you couldn't do when you were teaching.

    Universities while paying lip-service to teaching actually employ academics on the basis of their research and potential for research income. As standard the central administration of a university will take half of any research income generated by members of staff. Given that research projects, particularly in the sciences, can be in the millions it's easy to "do the math" and see why universities would place an emphasis on this stream of funding over undergraduate fees.

    It would take a significant increase in tuition fees to alter this settlement for administrators. However there are also pressures building up from below. At my old University the students' union campaigned for extra teaching hours to be added to the academic year in recognition of the introduction of tuition fees. As such teaching will go into the summer term, giving students more contact hours but eating into the research time for academics.

    The elephant in the room is what will happen to UK universities if there is a significant drop in overseas students. Students from outside the EU pay about £5k more in tuition a year and in recent years there has been a dash to sign-up overseas students. If these numbers decline they will be an immediate impact on university budgets. Perhaps the VCs think the UK undergraduates are the ones to fill it.

  2. Point taken. Perhaps the solution is to separate the research staff from the teaching staff ?

    Teaching shouldn't be getting in the way of research and vice-versa.

    Let the educators focus on what they do best. Let the researchers focus on what they do best. Free from the distractions.

    My lecturers (back in the olden days when I went to Uni) were clearly distracted. I feel short changed by my education, it was limited in scope and the calibre of the teaching was poor.

  3. I couldn't agree more with iMADEtheBBC. University in the late '80s for me was about many things, but none of them involved academic education. I sometimes feel like sending my degree back and asking them what in the name of God they were thinking.

  4. Malcolm Gladwell touches on the subject of the length of academic terms in his book Outliers. He reckons it goes back to the Western approach to agriculture with its emphasis on not over-working the land. "The school year in the United States is, on average, 180 days long," he says. "The South Korean school year is 220 days long. The Japanese school year is 243 days long." There's always a lot of talk of educational reform but I don't hear much about increasing productivity.

  5. Gladwell is clear (KIPP) that extra hours' study produce better results in the sciences. Fact.
    It's a race. You can run a marathon in 2 hours and 3 minutes, or more. Do you want to win, or not?
    Oh, this doesn't seem to apply to language skills. Ricky Gervais would no doubt be well qualified to comment on this, cunty bollocks fuck etc and so on.