Critical minds draw short straw

January 14, 2000

I am extremely worried that the government is introducing short degrees ("Short degrees welcomed", THES, January 7) as I believe that it will lead to an erosion of standards and, more importantly, to a more conformist society, unable to engage in critical evaluation.

This is already evident among my students, who appear to be conditioned to believe that there is a standard answer to everything and that they must not criticise through fear of failing assignments or examinations.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this does not apply to postgraduate and professional studies students, but they are even more reluctant to criticise. This appears to be directly related to a fear of losing their jobs or posts.

Universities should be opening the minds of students and enlightening them about the richness of views on topics. This will be of much greater value to them when they enter work. They will have the knowledge to argue with their managers, critically evaluate management decisions and suggest different and possibly better ways of managing.

As a lecturer in marketing I realise that I am speaking from a business perspective. However, I use most of the social sciences as part of my teaching strategy and I have noticed how, for example, students dismiss Marx as being of no relevance until it is explained to them how an understanding of Marx's theories can assist them to understand the market system.

It is the responsibility of universities to open, not to train, minds. Training is the responsibility of employers.

Paul Cowell

Manchester School of Management

University of Salford

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