'Students take more professional approach'

March 31, 1995

"It has been a long haul," says Xavier Testar, assistant professor of biology at the University of Barcelona, of education reforms.

Lecturers at the university, a vast institution with 68,400 students, have been obliged to squeeze in the extra hours entailed by teaching both old and new syllabuses. "This has meant a big increase in our workload," Dr Testar says. To reduce the strain on resources, the university is temporarily employing postgraduate students to supervise practicals.

Another difference is that the amount of work required of students has grown substantially. This is partly due to the shorter timescale, but Dr Testar feels the content is more demanding. Lecturers have been obliged to condense their material "and a student is receiving more in ten hours now than before".

He is aware that longer hours mean students cannot combine study and paid work, but says this has long been the case with sciences. He favours increased student grants, night classes and, where appropriate, distance learning as ways of widening access.

Dr Testar sees a need to "professionalise" students by obliging them to take courses more seriously. It is a waste of resources if "studying is just something you do between weekends". He says students now get the message "it is only four years, but work hard".

He says teaching the basics in the first two years is a sound idea, but disagrees that specialisation should be kept for a minority of postgraduate students, as it devalues first degrees.

He is in favour of free-choice subjects, permitting students to cultivate other interests and improve job prospects. In practice, free-choice units are being introduced slowly within the university, on cost grounds. Demand has been particularly high for courses such as business studies and computing.

Dr Testar is convinced standards are being raised. He says "students have adapted to the greater daily effort required of them".

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