More bang for your buck
David Willetts says that students are ‘frustrated’ by the amount of tuition they receive in British universities adding his voice a growing refrain that insists universities should provide more staff-student ‘contact hours’.
Given that the pursuit of a three year degree will leave students in the red to the tune of £52000 (by some estimates) it is to be expected that students will want more bang for their buck.
But forgive me for pissing all over the Tories’ plans to turn higher education into a consumer nirvana but Willett’s demand that students get more lectures would be laughable, except that by now we know there is fuck all that’s funny about the Tories.
I’m tempted to point out that university budgets have been slashed and as a consequence there isn’t the staff to meet a demand for more of anything much, never mind lectures. But that’ll cut no ice with the Tories, who’ll argue that the courses that can attract students will have the money to employ the human resources to teach them. Except, of course, that you won’t know how many staff you need until you know how well you’ve recruited. And given that enrolment ebbs and flows, this is a recipe for the casualisation of lecturing staff. How will those heavily indebted customers feel about being taught by an army of mercenary tutors, here one semester and gone the next?
Perhaps Willetts sees the solution lying in the redistribution of work. A lecturer’s work revolves around three spheres – teaching, research and administration. Since it is hard to image course administration being slashed, I suspect that what is being proposed is that lecturers do less research, or none at all. But if I was a student paying £9ooo a year I’d want to be taught be someone with expertise in my field of study. And genuine expertise comes from being research active.
But even if there were no cuts and staffing levels and work loads weren’t a problem, there is the issue of poor student attendance at the lectures and seminars already offered.
Students wearing their consumer’s head may say they want more – after all what consumer doesn’t thrill to see 2 for the price of 1 or 50% extra - but as many consumers who take up such offers discover, sometimes you don’t have the appetite for the extra portion and it lies rotting in the bottom of the fridge.
From my experience as a lecturer and course director, getting some students to attend the classes already time-tabled is a struggle. For instance, in a class of 8o students, if I can get half of them to attend the weekly lecture, I consider that a success. As for seminars, I find that attendance is even worse, perhaps because students are expected to contribute, and there is no surer way to kill attendance than to insist on student participation.
But it would be a mistake to see laziness as the main reason that students skip classes. The introduction of fees has seen a rise in the number of students who now have to work part-time hours to keep themselves in university. As a consequence there are times of the week when students just can’t attend classes because of the demands of employers or because they’re just too bloody tired.
Like so much of the government’s thinking on higher education, Willetts’ latest contribution to the debate makes no sense, driven by an idiot-belief that in all instances you can have more for less.