Running to stand still

February 25, 2010

Amanda Goodall states that the core business of a university is research and teaching ("Raise your game", 18 February), but a news story covering a conference address by John Haldane is headlined: "Teaching is the highest purpose, argues thinker".

It could be that the mass of researchers has become a drag on some universities, but good teaching should be founded on good research. At my institution, teaching is underpinned by research and this ensures that content is up to date, improving the employability prospects of our undergraduates. For instance, ethics and sustainability feature in all our courses and these issues are relevant to the real world. Our academics do not live in ivory towers.

In the same issue, Bahram Bekhradnia states that more than 8 per cent of the English sector's total income comes from international student fees, more than the research assessment exercise delivered ("They don't come for the food: sector's reputation is paramount").

So to combine the views of Haldane and Bekhradnia: instead of concentrating on publishing in journals that practitioners don't read, why don't we concentrate on recruiting foreign students to plug the gap in funding?

To do this, we must arrest declining standards. I have been an academic for more than three decades, and in that time standards in the UK have dropped, but this is not the fault of the students: assessment drives teaching, and what is taught is that which can easily be tested. Understanding is not tested. The modular system has a lot to answer for.

Standards in other countries are higher than in the UK, but instead of addressing this, we say: "Your children are running faster than ours. Can you ask them to slow down?"

Bala Balachandran, Director, accounting and finance, Cass Business School.

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