Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Leeds University: A Curriculum of Errors - By Frank Ellis

Since our inception in 1997, we have broadened our intellectual framework and built on our existing specialisms within gender relations. We now incorporate ‘race’, masculinities, sexualities, queer and trans- theories into our research work which has a core focus on the body. (Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies, Leeds University)

Please mark for content only – Do not penalise for errors of spelling, grammar or punctuation (written instructions given to Dr Frank Ellis at the University of Leeds before marking a 2nd year grammar exam, 2004-2005)

The University of Leeds has aspirations to world class status (University and College Union, Leeds University)

© Frank Ellis 2010

The financial crisis which now confronts Leeds University (and other universities) has its origins in the egalitarianism of both New Labour and, it must be said, the Conservative Party. It was after all a Tory government that abandoned the distinction between polytechnics and universities, so imposing unitary status and preparing the way for the influx of large numbers of poorly qualified students into tertiary education. Inflaming this expansionist fever was also an assumption, encouraged by politicians and academics, that all who wanted to go to university, should be able to do so; that, indeed, going to university was akin to a human right. It is no such thing. Potential students have the right to pursue access to a university place, subject to their meeting the academic requirements for entry and being able to secure the necessary funding. If they are unable to meet the entrance requirements, they must seek other avenues of personal advancement. The huge increase in the numbers of students that started to overwhelm universities from the mid 1990s onwards inevitably resulted in course requirements being watered down to accommodate students who earlier would have been rejected. Too many students were granted access to courses for which they were ill prepared and for which they were intellectually unsuited. At the same time, they will have incurred large debts. Even worse, they soon discover in the world of mortgages and council tax that the much vaunted degree in gender studies or film studies does not impress a hard-headed employer. Over the last fourteen years the governing bodies of British universities have behaved in way which bears more than a passing resemblance to those other would-be masters of the universe, the banks, now rightly castigated for their incompetence. For their part, and in pursuit of a sub-prime clientele, the universities encouraged a reckless increase in student numbers regardless of academic ability. In the process they cruelly deceived many applicants about the benefits and costs of higher education, lied to the British taxpayer and will almost certainly have inflicted severe long-term damage on higher education itself. As regards Leeds University, I am bound to ask whether Michael Arthur, the vice chancellor of Leeds University and chairman of the Russell Group of universities, who presided over this porcine rush after fool’s gold, is competent to deal with his own local crisis and the national one that he and his fellow vice chancellors have done so much to create.

Russian Language and Literature at the University of Leeds

Between 1992 and 2006 I taught in the Department of Russian Studies, part of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures (SMLC), at Leeds University. In addition to my specialist Russian media course, based on a study of Marxist-Leninist ideology, censorship and post-Soviet media law, I used to teach two general courses on nineteenth century and twentieth century Russian literature, courses running over the academic year based on the novels of Dostoevsky, the twentieth century Russian novel, and one on Solzhenitsyn, as well as language teaching at all levels. I also prepared a special subject course on Russian war literature. Over this period expansion was primarily driven by egalitarian considerations, referred to in educational bureaucratese as ‘widening participation initiatives’, and pushed hard by ambitious senior university figures anxious to ingratiate themselves with their political masters. I was able to witness first hand the consequences of this expansion on academic standards and to gain some insights into its impact on financial planning in the SMLC.

Continue reading Frank Ellis's analysis of the declining standards in further education at Sarah Maid of Albion II by clicking here

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