University education today

I read a piece in the UK News section of Google, which gave the league tables of the first hundred universities of the world, starting at the top with America. It was noticeable how few British universities appeared on the list. The comment accompanying this list was a verbal wringing of hands. To me, who has been wittering on for a long time about the poor standards required for entry to, and the quality of the degrees at the end of the day, it came as no surprise. You probably get sick of me harping back, but when I see the level of dropout that we are paying for with our taxes, and think back to what university life was like in the late 40s, some obvious lessons just jump at you. There was a fair cross-section of educated humanity which made up the average Year in any faculty, but in those days it was rare to find someone who didn’t appreciate that he or she had been selected for an experience that few enjoyed, with the result that the majority of us worked consistently and even in the Vacs, to make sure that we passed our exams at the end of each year. A university education is as much to do with the social and sports side of the year, with societies, educational trips, and above all the interchange of ideas in the union over a coffee. There were some who wasted the opportunity and had to resit, but most of us, especially the older ones like myself on an ex-service grant, worked hard, and if we had time played hard. Those like me with a young family were at a disadvantage where it came to the out of hours activities, which was something that I regretted losing, but I had my responsibilities.

The quality of the teaching in any university reflects the quality of the teachers. A man who has spent years arriving to a point where he has a PhD, is not going to be satisfied with just being a schoolmarm, his main drive is to do the sort of research that has been his main objective all along, to catch the eye of industry who will subsidise this research, and in the end to produce papers in technical journals that will enhance his reputation, and inevitably that of the University. The life of a university lecturer is what he cares to make it. There are those who are glorified teachers, but there are those who are specialists of a very high quality, and it is these that we need in our universities to raise the standards to those we had years ago. If you have that level of expertise and innovation on the teaching staff, you will inevitably improve the quality of the degrees, but this also can only be effected if the intellectual quality and enthusiasm of the students is commensurate. It is clear from what I have written that you either have an upward or downward spiral, nothing in this life stays still and remains the same. Even years ago when I was working, and I had graduates joining my staff straight from university, while there were some who were extremely bright, I felt in many cases that the standard had dropped since my day, and that was years ago. I believe the spiral has been winding down ever since.

The answer is to pump more money into the salaries of the teaching staff, in order to raise the standards of teaching, and research, so that industry subsidises the research in the universities, and consequently increases the income to the University, instead of dropping the standards in order to increase the income by increasing the student population. I am told that overseas students pay a lot more for their education here in university than ours. The only way you’re going to attract overseas income is to raise the standards across the board

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