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fining universities for bad teaching


I tend to keep quiet about the inanities of government educational policy these days, but I couldn’t help getting a bit exercised by the proposal to penalise bad university teaching by lowering the fees. As usual, they completely miss the point by focusing on the teaching (impossible to measure) rather than the learning (which is at least quantifiable according to some very broad criteria). Thinking back to my own time as a university lecturer I’m pretty sure I never taught anybody anything (just as my own teachers from O level onwards didn’t ‘teach’ me), but I hope I enabled students to discover their innate ability to be creative with their own learning. I was incredibly lucky with my university job: when I started out I had a free hand to teach what I liked however I liked. There were no specified ‘aims and outcomes’  – and the very idea that you could reduce the results of a course to three outcomes when you had maybe twenty students all with different expectations would have sounded completely mad. I’m probably seeing it through rose tinted reality goggles, but it seems like a glorious golden time in retrospect. Then the government decided it needed to measure everything, and it went downhill after that.  Now students are customers who expect ‘value for money’. It’s no good just hoping to inspire your students to be creative – you have to tell them how to do it, and they have to do it according to a set of rules (and as was made clear to me towards the end of my time as a lecturer, the Music criteria had to be the same as those for the Biology Dept).

I won’t bang on any more about it as there will be plenty of bile in my new book (assuming I can find a publisher that way inclined), but I can’t help thinking there might be an opportunity here for poverty stricken arts students to indulge in a bit of sabotage of the government’s obsessive educational monetizing. A cheap bad teacher – one who lets you do your own thing – may be preferable to a highly measurable expensive one. You get to be creative and your loan goes a bit further.

Normal service will be resumed with the autumn gig list shortly.

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