Originality in the east

January 9, 1998

WANG Gungwu wrote thoughtfully about the type of degrees which will best suit the universities of Southeast Asia ("Breadth and the Powerful", THES, December 26) and ended by suggesting that damage was done by the narrow approaches of the past.

My experience in various kinds of Chinese universities has been that there is indeed an emphasis on cramming the students with facts at the expense of providing them with an opportunity to develop their powers of originality.

I suspect that the adoption of modular courses will merely increase this tendency albeit on a wider scenario. Specialist courses should, at least by the final year, provide the students with an intellectual challenge which, having been mastered, gives them the confidence to tackle other fields, both for classicists and scientists.

There are demands for degree courses to incorporate an element of problem-solving, especially in respect to the preclinical medical courses (problem-based learning).

My main concern is that such courses should be based on a modicum of factual information. A specialist course that incorporates a carefully planned research project achieves most of the desired objectives. Too often I have found such a research element lacking in Southeast Asia so that the students leave with a basic knowledge but with little enthusiasm.

Peter Campbell Emeritus professor of biochemistry University College London

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