'Elitism' hinders learners

February 14, 1997

Entrenched, elitist prejudice and anachronistic teaching methods at Cambridge University are failing its ethnic minorities, state school students and women, the student union has claimed.

In its submission to Sir Ron Dearing's committee of inquiry into higher education, the Cambridge University Students' Union has demanded mandatory teacher training for Cambridge lecturers and more student input to external teaching quality audits.

Teaching in small groups or in one-to-one tutorials, which is common at Cambridge and often held-up as best practice, was singled out for criticism. The union warned Sir Ron that such teaching could have serious implications if teachers and learners were mismatched.

Neil McInnes, the union's academic affairs officer, said that was particularly a problem for non-traditional students. "Many Cambridge students are still suffering from the politics of exclusion. Women have only been in some Cambridge colleges for 20 years. The number of state-school students here is still horrifically low. The university desperately needs to make clear its commitment to widening access and to make its teaching appropriate for the whole student community, not just the traditional entrants."

Last year 22 per cent of men at Cambridge graduated with first-class honours, compared with only 13 per cent of women. This, the students warned Sir Ron, "casts doubt over the effectiveness of small group teaching, and the assessment system as it stands. It is clear that some students in this university are under-achieving or not being properly supported by either their college or department".

A university spokeswoman for said: "Everyone is aware of the problem with our women students. No one can deny that evidence shows women aren't doing as well. It is an ongoing issue which is all being examined."

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