No stinting on facts

July 4, 2003

While I sympathise with Graeme Garrard about graduate supervision at Oxford University (Letters, THES, June ), one sentence is misleading.

True, graduates pay hefty fees, but supervisors receive only a pitiful proportion of them. Graduate supervision pays very little. Most humanities supervisors spend three to four hours a term in face-to-face meetings with students. They also read significant quantities of written work. But they are technically paid well below minimum wage. It could be argued that we are recompensed through our salaries. But it makes almost no monetary difference whether an Oxford postholder is supervising graduates or not. "Stint reform" is designed in part to address this issue.

On the question of similarities with the Ivy League ("Big shake-up and new v-c could take Oxford from ivy-clad into Ivy League", THES, June 20), comparing postgraduate-undergraduate ratios is like comparing apples with oranges.

Harvard, Yale and Princeton universities have huge medical, law and other "applied" postgraduate faculties, Oxford does not. Attempting to match those ratios on the basis of a massive expansion of postgraduates in the humanities and sciences is impractical. It would lead to a decline in the quality of postgraduate admissions. Postgraduate teaching at Oxford needs reform, but this should not be addressed on the basis of spurious data.

As for credibility and comparability, I have been at a conference where several US academics have praised the work of my doctoral candidates. I find this reassuring, as I too am concerned about these issues.

Adrian Gregory
Modern history faculty
University of Oxford

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