Degree skirmish leads to ballot

January 5, 1996

Plans for a new Cambridge degree in education studies will be put to a rare vote of all 3,000 dons after protests from a small band of mathematicians and scientists.

The degree, which will be mainly taught to around 50 students at Homerton, Cambridge's specialist education college, has outraged a small group led by Frank King, a computer scientist from Churchill College.

When the proposal first came up for public discussion in November, Dr King mocked the whole subject and proposed an alternative: "a pedestrian studies tripos in which students would be encouraged to reflect on the purpose of looking both ways before crossing the road".

He further questioned the fact that the degree will not have any mathematical or physical science content, offering instead only papers in biological science, as well as English, music, religious studies, history and geography.

He also expressed concern that Homerton, home of the Cambridge BEd degree which has less rigorous entrance requirements, would become a "back door" into the university.

The education faculty responded, and won the backing of the university's main academic councils which reported that "they were satisfied that the proposed tripos will fully meet the standards of intellectual rigour appropriate to the BA degree".

But Dr King has found support for his views, and ten objectors - the minimum required - have signed the petition to force a vote at Regent House, the dons' parliament.

The ballot is expected to take place in February. Kate Pretty, Homerton's principal, who has been working on the new degree for three years, said she was confident it would be accepted. She tried to play down the significance of the ballot which, even if it fails, will have stalled progress by several months. "This is a perfectly normal Cambridge skirmish," she said.

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