Contact fallacies

七月 13, 2017

Your story “University applicants ‘expect more contact hours than at school’” (, 4 July) reports survey findings that 60 per cent of new undergraduates expect to have more time in class than they had at school.

Students are supposed to “read” for a degree. This involves significant time spent in autonomous (albeit well-supported) engagement with a subject. Without such autonomous engagement, students run the risk of being passive learners.

School and university are different stages of educational life. Undergraduates should be helped to work in a way that over time demands and imparts increasing levels of independence and sophistication in relation to research, analysis and argumentation.

Studying a discipline is in large part about acquiring mental skills and brain habits that enable a person to succeed in that discipline while gaining sufficiently useful transferable skills. No amount of sitting in lectures is likely to train a mind to the level required.

And it is interesting that in any case, students often skip lectures – even those with really engaging, exciting and innovative lecturers. You cannot just buy a degree as if buying a productor even an experience. A degree is hard work and should be; and it should involve time with actual materials – whether paper-based, digital or some other format – that demand the development of the student so that when they leave university, they are independent, critical, capable and confident learners.

If I had my way, lectures would never be exercises in mere transmission of facts. They would present a provocative argument – one throwing students into questions and uncertainties, safely, rather than giving them the false security of passivity, handouts and educational consumerism.


If students want more contact time, why do so few of them turn up to the “too few” lectures and seminars provided in the first place? Across the sector, 50 per cent or less attendance is commonplace. Too many students are led to think that they will be given a (good) degree quid pro quo in exchange for their tuition fees, without their having to make any effort or take any responsibility for their university education. Their attitude and sense of automatic entitle­ment is appalling.


Send to

Letters should be sent to:
Letters for publication in Times Higher Education should arrive by 9am Monday.
View terms and conditions.



  • 注册是免费的,而且十分便捷
  • 注册成功后,您每月可免费阅读3篇文章
  • 订阅我们的邮件
Please 登录 or 注册 to read this article.