March 12, 2014

The cult of university, Ctd Short-changed

Rob Behrens, chief executive of The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education
The Sunday Times (9.iii.2014) reported on a 2013 study of more than 17,000 undergraduates (commissioned by Which?) which found weekly contact time between students and staff had fallen from 14 hours and 48 minutes in 1963 to 13 hours 42 minutes in 2012. Some students shared their experiences:

Josh Vallance, a first-year history student at one university, said:
"I have seven hours’ contact time at the moment but that will drop to three in my final year. Some of the seminars are good, but there are just too few of them."
A first-year geography student who wished to remain anonymous, said she regretted going to university:
"As far as the university is concerned, I am non- existent. I could disappear for good and none of the academic staff would ever notice... When I’ve emailed my personal tutor about something, she just says she’s the wrong person to ask. I feel that I am wasting my time." 
This backs up my assertion that for many young people university is a giant holding pen. A student in her final year of an English literature degree at a Scottish university said:
"My last essay took two months to be marked, which may sound trivial but it’s impossible to know how you are getting on without feedback."

Placating students with good grades

The point I have personally and repeatedly made is that it is nearly impossible to fail at university. The incentive-bargaining relationship is so tilted in the interest of the university, that I believe that they regard themselves unable to fail fee-paying students. Sian Griffiths and Ros Anstey said:
"A lecturer at a top university claimed he had come under pressure to re-mark exam papers to ensure all students got at least a 2:1 degree. “I like to give honest feedback, but we are told to tell every student they are wonderful."
As Sian Groffoths said:
"The ombudsman’s findings will fuel fears that universities are shortchanging students and the suspicion that they are handing out more top degrees to placate them."
What Tony McMahon called "I paid for my degree = a good mark" attitude.
They also reported that universities are facing a growing backlash over fees from students who have lodged more than 2,000 complaints this year about poor teaching and facilities. This is the annual report by the higher education ombudsman (The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education) to be published in June 2014, which will detail the anger of students, paying up to £9,000 a year in fees, over problems such as too little time spent with tutors, overcrowded lecture halls and badly organised professional placements for those studying medicine and teaching.

Degree inflation

On the matter of degree inflation, degree results obtained by The Sunday Telegraph showed that six out of 10 students were handed either a first or an upper second in 2010, compared with just one in three graduates in 1970. Prof Alan Smithers, director of Buckingham University's centre for education and employment research, and a long-standing critic of falling standards, said:
"There has been the most extraordinary grade inflation. As the system has expanded and a wider ability range has taken degree courses, the universities have altered their standards. Institutions are under pressure to improve their place in league tables and also need good results to compete for research grants. Giving university status to the polytechnics, some of which are very good, freed them to award their own degrees and they have exercised that freedom to award high degrees to relatively poorly-qualified entrants.

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