Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 3

Submission from Peter Dorey[5]


  I am convinced that "dumbing down" is taking place in British Higher Education, and at an alarming rate too. It has been throughout the last decade at least, but politicians resolutely refuse to listen to those who work in universities.

1.  Universities are now run as businesses, so many VCs and senior administrators want to avoid obliging weak students to withdraw from their courses, because that will mean a loss of revenue from their fees. Maximisation income is now a priority, so we are compelled to "mark creatively" when faced with a weak student. We are also obliged to be "culturally sensitive" to students whose first language is not English, because these are financially lucrative in terms of the high fees they pay to study at a British university.

Ultimately, financial considerations are competing against academic criteria and standards.

  2.  The "customer is always right" ethos fostered by successive governments since the 1980s, via their reform of the public sector, and their unrelenting hostility towards professionals ("selfish producer interests"), means that a weak or lazy student will simply claim that the lecturers were at fault, and threaten litigation, backed by assertive middle class parents who always think that their own children are wonderful; if only some parents could see how badly their offspring behave, and how ill-mannered they are, when away from home.

  Even the articles quotes Phil Willis re-asserting that "students are now customers". Sorry Mr Willis, that is part of the problem; YOU are encouraging students to be arrogant, lazy and passive, rather than actively-engaged learners. The term customer implies handing over money, and being given something in return, not working for it.

  3.  Key concepts and intellectual ideas which students readily understood 10-15 years ago, they struggle to understand today. Indeed, many of them have serious problems thinking critically or independently at all: "Just tell us what we need to know in order to pass our exams. Everything else is irrelevant or boring", they say.

  4.  Many of them are semi-literate, and write in "text-message" style. However, we have to assume that inability to spell is always due to Dyslexia. We are not permitted to penalise poor spelling in written work for fear of breaching "equality and diversity" policies.

  We then get employers and the media criticising universities for churning out illiterate graduates.

  5.  Today's students, overall, are less willing to read and work hard.

  They often sit in seminars with only their mobile phone in front of them on the desk (which they anxiously look at every three minutes to see if any of their friends has contacted them, rather than paying attention to the lesson) , but no books or note pads. Ask them what they have read by way of preparation, and they will brazenly admit to having read nothing—"I was out last night", they will say with a smirk. They are paying £3,000, so how can we admonish them for not working? We can't, and they know it.

  Indeed, the view is becoming established that having paid £3,000 fees, they should not have to do any work. They expect academics to do all the work now—we are their servants entirely, and every time a government Ministers says that "students are customers", this problem becomes more entrenched.

  This problem is further compounded by the "celebrity culture" which youngsters today are in thrall to, which promotes the ethos of instant success and instant gratification—you can have it all now, they are led to believe. Hard work is for "losers". Those (dwindling number of ) students who do admit to working hard academically and staying in during the evenings to read for a tutorial or write an essay are sneered at by their peers as being "mugs" or "anoraks".

  There is no point in expanding Higher Education and increasing the number of graduates if they are too illiterate or lazy to be of any use to employers in an increasingly competitive, global knowledge economy, by this Government just does not seem to understand this, or listen to the

concerns of those who can see fist-hand, what is happening.

  And we all know that "teaching quality audits" are about having the "right" paperwork and boxes ticked, not actual teaching

  So given all of this, how could anyone seriously believe that the record number of university graduates is evidence that students today are brighter or more hard-working?

  I used to enjoy teaching, but now increasingly feel as if I am wasting my time with today's students.

November 2008

5   Reader in British Politics, Department of Politics, School of European Studies, University of Cardiff. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 2 August 2009