Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
Image of Hilary Wilce

The Quandary - 12 Jul 2007

My students canít construct arguments, and all of them cut and paste in essays. Do people understand that this is how things are universities now?

Hillary's Advice

This London University lecturer says she has no time to help her students learn how to structure coherent, substantiated arguments, or to pick them up on cutting and pasting chunks from the internet into their essays. What she doesnít say, but probably should, is also that she would feel uncomfortable marking overseas students too harshly (they are, after all, paying big fees) or dragging down the overall marks of her department by sticking too rigorously to her own high academic standards.

In short universities, just like schools, are so worried about the need to meet targets, to look good in league tables, and to be seen to be achieving high standards, that boundaries are inevitably bent to accomplish that. At the same time, thanks to the nature of todayís A levels, schools no longer deliver university-ready pupils able to think for themselves, while universities are so under-funded that the inevitable consequence has been to reduce much of modern higher education to mass rote learning delivered by over-stretched lecturers in crowded lecture theatres.

Do people know? It depends on who you mean by people. Anyone who has been through a university in the past 10 years probably has a shrewd idea of how things are going. Older graduates, on the other hand, probably naively believe that the huge expansion of higher education has led to many more thousands of students enjoying the same kind of experience they remember from their own days at university. Alas, they could not be more wrong. Todayís degrees are often an entirely different commodity from what they were a generation ago.