It’s Good to Talk

The proposals to dramatically reduce the number of tutorials history undergraduates receive as part of their degree course is part of a worrying trend, and one that shows no signs of stopping until students wise up to the fact that cuts in tutorials will compromise the worth of their Oxford degree. Sixth Formers now see a degree as a commodity to be bought, not as the right it once was. Oxford’s unique selling point is the tutorial system, and before the University goes ahead with tutorial cuts in other subjects, as it already has with philosophy and other humanities, it should consult those who the cuts will affect them most. The focus should be on students, particularly as with dramatically increasing fees over the next few years, we will have more spending power. However over the last week the focus has shifted unnecessarily towards a discussion of the rights of consultation enjoyed by students when changes are proposed. The History Faculty must bear the bulk of the responsibility for this. A situation in which the relevant student representatives (the history UJCC) are only made aware of major changes being made to the teaching of their degrees via a third party and only after changes are all but finalised is clearly unacceptable. There is no suggestion that Oxford is making the slow move from tutorials to classes to improve the quality of undergraduate teaching. If this was the case, it would have been nice of the faculty to explain this to students in recent weeks. The suggestion, by some in the Faculty, that students were suitably consulted because similar proposals were put several years ago to (and rejected by) a previous UJCC is laughable. It would allow any changes to be made without reference to students as long as sufficient time had elapsed since the matter was discussed with them. It should be noted that neither OUSU or the UJCC has ruled out the possibility of supporting changes to teaching methods. The real issue then is why are these changes being suggested? If they follow from a need to save money on undergraduate teaching then the motive is weak in comparison to the future of student’s degrees. The argument that tutorials should be cut to reduce stress on tutors and encourage research does not avoid the label of being resource based and as such should be taken with caution. However, if these changes stem from a genuine wish to improve the educational experience of students at Oxford then they should be welcomed. Conservative attitudes to teaching methods can be just as damaging to standards as finance driven cuts. The onus then is on the Faculty to prove that the changes they propose will improve teaching and that they are committed to a genuine partnership with students to implement reform.
ARCHIVE: 4th week TT 2003