Feedback should be a right not a rare privilege

It has been something of a mixed year for York, winning University of the Year 2010/2011 whilst crashing down in almost every league table published. It is, it would seem, broadly owing to the University’s failure to perform in spheres outside of traditional academia that it finds itself struggling to maintain its place in the top 10.

York, as an institution, has always benefitted in the league tables from the weight that they place upon the quality of research which each institution produces and similar questions of academia rather than what might be called the ‘student experience’.

However, it seems that what we’re seeing now is the beginning of a balancing act where it becomes clear that in order to have good research departments, we must generally fill them with academics whose primary interest is further research into their subject rather than getting a number of students up to a level that they have long since ceased to find challenging.

Indeed, while it is certainly not the view of all or even most academics it seems there is still a significant number who regard teaching as an onerous duty, which simply allows them sufficient time to pursue their actual area of interest.

For a number of lecturers this will mean that they are putting in the minimum necessary amount of work in order to prepare for their classes and as a result their lectures and seminars are uninspring have a sense of lassitude which can make every minute drag.

Whilst perhaps as recently as a decade ago this stance could be happily maintained within many university institutions, with the increasing expectation of students that universities conform to their desires and demands, a lacksadaisical attitude to giving students feedback on their work is beginning to stick out like a sore thumb.

The problem with this approach is not only that the university becomes less attractive. There also remains the perennial problem that if students feel their work is being ignored by their tutors, they cease to believe that the work that they are doing is valuable or indeed worthwhile. By doing this we not only damage students’ capacity to get the most out of their course, but we also undermine their faith in their belief that coming to university was, after all, a wise choice.

The new government guidelines coming into place, which force universities to publish the results of the NSS alongside the information about that course, will throw a great deal more importance upon the it must also be considered in the light of the government’s new plan, which will ensure that universities will receive money year-on-year based on how many students they attract.

It will lead to universities implementing structures that will force academics to spend more of their time focusing on the needs of their students and far less time developing their own research and thoughts.

What I suspect this will lead to in reality is a gap that will develop between members of a department who are there to attract funding through high-profile research projects and those who must spend the majority of their time doing the actual teaching.

I believe this will widen to the point where those who teach are essentially supporting the research of a number of their colleagues, who need only give the occasional lecture.

This will make it a great deal more difficult for newer institutions to develop their own research as they will be unable to support the almost full-time researchers that would allow for such innovation. By making it far more difficult for newer institutions to develop their own research we maintain the privileged position of older, better funded institutions who are able to support larger research departments.

Therefore it seems likely that in the foreseeable future what we will find is that large institutions are able to consolidate and increase their monopoly on higher education in the UK and it becomes less likely that we will see a repeat of the success enjoyed by universities such as York in moving from start-up universities into the UK top 10 in less than half a century.

See news article here

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