Have standards hit an iceberg? 2

December 3, 2004

Your survey "Caught in a vicious cycle of declining standards" (November 19) presents evidence of widespread dumbing down in academia.

There is reason to believe, however, that falling standards are even more extensive than reported.

There is solid evidence that A-level mathematics fails miserably as an adequate preparation for physics and engineering. As a result, more than 250 departments give their students a skills test on entry, put on remedial courses to plug the gaps and so try to "prepare the ill-prepared". Anecdotal evidence suggests that the decline in basic skills also affects other disciplines, with academics having to pick up the pieces for failings in the school system.

What is now needed is a follow-up survey in which academics are asked if their present students are (a) as well prepared as those pre-1990 (having comparable grades) and (b) what fraction arrive adequately prepared for higher education?

The results could be quite revealing.

Mike Savage
Leeds University

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