Classicist Smackdown over Two Year Degrees in the UK

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Someone of importance in the UK has apparently suggested that two year degrees are feasible … if not desireable. In the Telegraph, Classicist Harry Mount seems to agree:

The myth still exists that giving students lots of time to themselves to work produces much better results than locking them up in a classroom all day.

There may be a few junior Einsteins out there who spend their evenings and those long, yawning days splitting atoms, but most students turn those spare hours to drinking, sleeping, banal conversations and rueful navel-gazing.

Vince Cable is quite right today, then, to say that most three-year university courses could happily be telescoped into two years. I did four years of classics and ancient and modern history at Oxford in the early 90s; with 24-week academic years, I was taught for 96 weeks – which could perfectly easily have been fitted into two years, with four weeks’ holiday each year.

And how much more I’d now know if I’d done more than one or two tutorials a week, with a couple of optional lectures (and Oxford, by the way, offers much more teaching than most other universities). If our universities were run like schools, with compulsory 9 to 5 lessons, five days a week, Britain would be a considerably better-informed place.

via: Vince Cable is right: more demanding two-year university courses are the answer

Classics student India Lenon disagrees:

Harry Mount writes today that Vince Cable’s suggestion for two-year degrees is a good one. He was, as I am now, an Oxford Classicist, but what he fails to realise is that times have changed a great deal between his period of study and my own.

When he was at Oxford, tuition was free, and all students could apply for means-tested local authority grants. These days we have to pay tuition fees and take out substantial loans – only the very poorest still receive grants of the kind available in previous decades. This means that long summer holidays are not, as Cable’s proposals seem to imply, a time for drinking, sleeping and self-satisfaction – they are a time for undertaking paid work to tackle our ever-mounting debts. Cable’s suggestion is a reaction to the economic crisis, but nothing could worsen the crisis more for students than making it impossible for them to pay for their degrees.

I have been working since the vacation began in mid-June, and will continue to do so for the majority of the rest of the holidays. Many other friends of mine are participating in eight week-long internships in the City, which have become a vital step on the path to any career there – these too would not be catered for by Cable’s absurd sweat-shop degrees.

It is also not the case that the content of ‘most’ three-year degrees could be packed into two years. Even if teaching and lecture times could feasibly be condensed, this would leave students with no time for consolidation of material or wider research. Cable’s two-year degrees would be little more than a second sixth-form, and traditional university study would be damaged beyond repair.

via: Two-year degrees will leave students broke and undereducated | Telegraph

Hmmm … I’ve obviously not been through a UK university, but in my experience, every hour in the classroom was accompanied by (at least) three hours of work outside the classroom. A lot of that’outside work’ might work in the scheme Harry Mount envisions, but surely Ms Lenon is right that there would be no time for consolidation. I could, actually, see such a thing working in some discipline — perhaps something math- or science-based — but surely Classics, with its cross-disciplinary nature built into it, would not survive in such a situation. Latin might. Greek might. Classical archaeology? I doubt it. Ancient (or any other) History? I doubt it.