A new Dark Age

August 20, 2015

My flabber was well and truly gasted when I read Sorana Vieru’s views on university education (“Sector ‘stuck in the Middle Ages’”, News, 13 August).

In what sense can the university curriculum and assessment methods (reflecting the stock of knowledge and good practice respectively) be said to be “unrepresentative”? Unrepresentative of what? Does not the use of continuous assessment, virtual learning environments, massive open online courses, as well as a focus on soft skills, distinguish contemporary higher education significantly from universities of the Middle Ages? When it is widely recognised that women are conspicuously under-represented in the professoriate, is Vieru seriously suggesting that standards of scholarship differ according to gender and/or ethnic background?

What evidence does Vieru have for her assertion that exams and essays privilege one group of students over another? It is naive to propose that a student’s (input) effort should be used as the criterion for awarding high marks when it is the assessment of (output) qualities – such as a student’s knowledge, reasoning skills or critical insights – that reflects more adequately the purposes of higher education. Moreover, to assume that students and their teachers are of “equal value” is to fail to recognise the necessary differences in their respective knowledge, expertise, experience, judgement and so on in connection with the choice of teaching methods, curriculum design or assessment strategies. If students are able to deal with these things in an effective manner before they have been through the system, why are they in the system at all?

Given her role as the National Union of Students’ vice-president (higher education), I worry about the ways in which Vieru’s misguided views might influence the perspectives of students in an unhelpful direction.

Richard Wilson
Emeritus professor, Loughborough University

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

opinion illustration

Eliminating cheating services, even if it were possible, would do nothing to address students’ and universities’ lack of interest in learning, says Stuart Macdonald

Female professor

New data show proportion of professors who are women has declined at some institutions

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride