A review of Oxford’s teaching model has found that many students feel their work favours “style over substance”, that blagging is one of the key skills taught by an Oxford degree and that the tutorial system has damaged many students’ self-confidence.

Published this week, the document highlights key problems felt by students throughout their degree and calls for a reassessment of long-term teaching objectives.

The review also brings revelations about the discrepancies in treatment students felt they were receiving across the four subject groups of Humanities, Social Sciences, Maths, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) and Medicinal Sciences.

Comments such as “it’s hard to stay motivated when your tutor tells you that ‘teaching you is soul-destroying'” indicate that students, especially those in MPLS subjects, feel that their confidence had been damaged by the teaching which they had received.

Students from Humanities and Social Sciences felt that “blagging” is an inevitable skill to be picked up. Some students felt they have “no choice but to work” and that work is “mainly style over substance”.

Undergraduates studying Medical Sciences courses expressed concern at the difference in teaching between colleges. The number of tutorials which students were having appeared to range from 2 per fortnight to 8 per fortnight depending on what college they attended.  

The review, which “reflects the experiences of hundreds of Oxford’s undergraduates”, is a result of focus groups that were instigated by OUSU, and conducted across nine colleges.

Despite the lack of consistency between tutorials in different Colleges, students in MPLS are more satisfied than their peers in other disciplines with the manner in which they were examined.

Students in MPLS are more satisfied with lectures, but they wished for them to be more effectively timetabled. MPLS students also feel that postgraduate students would be better at delivering classes or leading lab work than academics.

Some of the problems raised with lab work within MPLS and Medicinal Sciences is attributed to an “inclarity over the objectives” and an “outdated” form of teaching.
The issue generating the most dissatisfaction is the mismatch of the teaching model with the examination system, felt most greatly by Social Sciences and Humanities students.

Students frequently reported that they feel the work they were asked to produce for tutorials was very different from what was expected in examinations. 

The report says it was “very apparent that students were deeply concerned that they were unclear about the criteria against which they would be assessed”.

There is a strong sense that students do not know “what a first class essay would look like” in an examination setting or how they would produce one in under an hour.

Commonly students believe that “confidence and the ability to write aggressively” is what got them the highest marks but feel that large amounts of revision would not necessarily provide them with this ability.

Among the report’s suggestions about ways in which the style of teaching could be altered is the introduction of a common framework for teaching. This comes after students expressed that tutors’ teaching did not match expectations.  

The lack of summative assessment was noted by students in all four subject divisions, but was particularly focused on in Humanities and Social Sciences. Students felt that work was assessed against published marking criteria too infrequently given the importance of public examinations. 

Collections were not considered by students to be a sufficient method of providing summative feedback, “because of the lack of seriousness with which it was felt that they were sometimes taken.”  

Humanities and Social Sciences students in particular “did not feel there was any clear link between the manner in which they were taught and the manner in which they were assessed”.

The review showed there is a perceived contrast among students between tutorial work and what was expected in examination settings. It was also felt that summative assessment was largely dependent on the whims of individual tutors owing to unclear assessment criteria.

Students felt that mechanisms such as the release of ‘model answers’ by degree classification, greater access to examination scripts and more opportunities to practice exam-style writing would help with uncertainty over examinations,
Some of the expectations students had about teaching at Oxford had not been met, especially in Social Sciences, where students were likely to perceive tutors “as being comparatively uninterested in undergraduate teaching.”

Social Sciences and Humanities students, in particular Modern Linguists, expressed dissatisfaction with course organization and the unclear administration of joint courses. They were also mostlikely to view lectures as “ineffectual”.

Students across all divisions frequently indicated speed of work, resilience, willingness to defend they point of view as some of the skills they had acquired at Oxford.
The review indicated that even “in light of the [University’s] worsening financial situation” it is possible to implement changes which would improve student satisfaction.