Parity of esteem

November 7, 2013

Edward Acton raises useful questions when he argues that UK undergraduates should spend more time on their studies, particularly in the humanities and social sciences (“You get out what you put in”, 17 October). The reality is that many students need to undertake paid work during their studies, but discussions about funding should not be allowed to deflect universities from a responsibility to say something so vital about undergraduate education.

We best serve our students and equip them for the future by boldly proclaiming the value of the education we provide. Proxy measures (contact time in particular) are not the answer, but we should be willing to say something about the volume, intensity and depth of work required to earn degrees. Getting a degree should be difficult: valuable things often are.

We particularly welcome the way that Acton confronts head-on some of the challenges involved in balancing the multiple demands on academics’ time. The shape of the solution must differ between institutions, but his vision of research and education sustaining and supporting each other rather than being in competition is an attractive one.

For Durham University, developing a research mindset in our undergraduates is an essential part of how we prepare them for the next stage of their lives. As a result, the research mission is not an unwelcome drain on the capacity available for education: it is an essential part of how we are able to develop students’ questioning and analytical skills. The input from David Willetts (“Pedagogic price has to be right “, News, 24 October) is also welcome, but for a research-intensive university with a commitment to research-driven teaching, the relationship is more complex. Achieving parity of esteem for the teaching and research mission is essential, both to honour the commitment of staff with different roles and to sustain the type of education we provide.

Tom Ward, pro vice-chancellor (education)
Tom McLeish, pro vice-chancellor (research)
Durham University

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