Disillusioned Discordian

Alan Ryan and his thinly veiled Oxford elitism.
March 28, 2008, 2:28 pm
Filed under: Current Affairs

Alan Ryan, warden of New College, Oxford has been suggesting a new way of providing quality and opportunity within the University system. He argues in a recent edition of Time Higher Education that we should be adopting the California state model whereby students build up credits at collages etc and can than transfer into the University of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles for their final two years. In a way this approach would take us back to the period when polytechnics delivered large amounts of the teaching with the HE sector and a few universities did the research. To paraphrase his argument he suggests that the quality of research in post 1992 universities is significantly lower than the traditional places like his own Oxford.

Of course it’s a sweeping generalisation that ignores much of the excellent research that goes on in ‘new universities’. Of course not having a research tradition that goes back a decade or two these universities are not always going to be in the same league as an institution such as Oxford that has built up its research over hundreds of years. Having said that there are many emerging disciplines where new universities excel, it would be easy to point to the few ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees such as surfing studies that Alan refers to, but there are also increasingly professionalized subjects such as Nursing and Midwifery that historically have not had the same tradition of research (most likely as they were things done traditionally by women and not men).

The traditional Universities maybe great if you want to study classics or Physics, but how do they compete on my avant-guard areas of Philosophy, the arts and research in vocational subject areas?It’s lazy thinking to judge a degrees worth or the research capability of a department or academic simply on their host institution. So often I hear academics coming out with sweeping statements such as “everyone from Hull are thickos” which was something I head an academic say in an admissions panel meeting.  Alan’s attitude is patronizing and  it’s somewhat elitist to suggest that “unless we distract everyone from doing what they usefully can – excellent teaching to an MA level – by pretending that every institution has to have PhD students for the sake of self-respect”. There are plenty of excellent researchers doing fantastic PhD’s in post 1992 universities, Alan Ryan may not like other Universities striving to produce excellent research but lets not let views like his influence the decision makers into cutting back research funding in the institutions he thinks would be better off teaching.


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