Prague springboard

July 21, 1995

What Mark Corner says about the Charles University in Prague ("Waiting for the Czech" THES, July 14) sounds so familiar to me after my own two years there in the late 1970s that I do not doubt its accuracy; obviously very little has changed.

However, his claim that these conditions are somehow peculiar to eastern Europe evinces astonishing ignorance of what life is like at the vast majority of western European universities.

Students working their way through college, excessive contact hours (up to 30 a week), lack of supervision and independent study, unnecessarily long degree courses, Gradgrind teaching and school-like testing, an acute shortage of suitable student accommodation leading to commuting from home, etc, are as characteristic of conditions in Germany, France, Switzerland, and many other western European countries, as they are of those in the Czech Republic.

As for academics needing outside work to survive; this has long been the norm in Italy and is not uncommon in other relatively poor southern countries.

Corner completely fails to understand that a largely state-financed student body, efficient structured degree courses, regular supervision of individual study, mostly adequate accommodation away from home for the overwhelming majority of students, as well as a broader, more enlightened understanding of what a university education is all about, are, in Europe at least, still the almost exclusive preserve of our own United Kingdom system, imperfect though it is, and in spite of the damages it has sustained.

Peter Butler University of Basel Switzerland

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