Readers' reactions

January 8, 1999

Last month in The THES.. We asked whether UK universities needed a British version of the Modern Language Association

As I left the meeting of the Council for College and University English on November 21, among the figures huddled on the steps outside were two who had earlier been indoors at the request of CCUE to talk about their experiences looking for academic jobs.

Both had completed PhDs, both had taught undergraduates and, with time, both would publish a great deal. But with the number of PhD students vastly outweighing the number of full-time jobs in universities, both were also victims of over-production.

For the CCUE delegates, who had already been circulated with the recent MLA paper detailing over-production in the US, one idea seemed to strike a chord: that PhD students be regarded as undergoing an apprenticeship for an academic career but that it is not the business of departments to train PhD students to teach. Training should be done once students have secured a lecturing post.

This is radical because it announces that it is time to halt cheap teaching of undergraduates by their postgraduate peers. We need to look at how and why we use postgraduates if they are to continue to teach.

Here a link with the MLA may prove timely. English is an international discipline and needs to establish links at the highest levels to protect professional standards. We cannot sanction a system whereby PhD students are used to cover efficiency gains with no career opportunities. Linking to the MLA may be the first step towards change.

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