A Head Master Writes - The Sunday Times blog by Andrew Halls
A blog by Head Master Andrew Halls is being published on The Sunday Times’ website. Subscribers to The Times Online can click on the link from the Parent Power page of the Sunday Times.
Dazed and confused? Try a degree in Heavy Metal music
19 May 2013
At last – a UK university is offering a degree in heavy metal music. The course, to be offered by New College, Nottingham, will include modules on the music business and the history of heavy metal. Students will even learn how to compose and perform heavy metal music. Perhaps in several hundred years’ time, Nottingham academics will argue that Ozzy Osbourne could not have written Black Sabbath’s Paranoid in five minutes, as the band has always proudly claimed, or indeed at all, since their research will show he did not have a degree in heavy metal music. Defending the course, music lecturer Liam Maloy states simply: “It’s a degree, so it will be academically rigorous.” I think we can all feel completely reassured by this.
I doubt any number of heavy metal modules will prevent this university following others of its kind down the primrose path to the “electric funeral” (another Sabbath song) that surely awaits them. I will not repeat the grim figures I outlined in my last blog, but the concerns I raised about the diminishing ratio of quality to cost have swum even more sharply into focus this week.
According to a survey published by the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank (HEPI) on Wednesday, students at some universities are working for no more than twenty hours a week. Whereas a history student at Oxford or Cambridge expects to work for over 40 hours in any seven days, those at Leeds Metropolitan said they spent ten hours in lectures and seminars and just six in private study.
On average, the survey claims, UK undergraduates work a 31-hour week, and a 900-hour year. This is far less than the 1200 hours that is the accepted “norm” for any officially sanctioned university. A typical historian at Leeds Met is apparently not even reaching half of the acceptable minimum.
As ever with surveys of this sort, the figures are hard to depend upon. Who knows exactly how many hours an arts student spends reading and writing essays? Nevertheless, the figures have some credibility. Parents of pupils now at university are well aware of the enormous difference in expectations and workload that exist between universities – and between faculties. Engineers, scientists, medics and vets have far more “taught” time than those pursuing arts degrees, and yet the annual fees are the same.
When my oldest daughter’s friends meet, I quite often hear that at university X, they have only written one essay in four weeks, whereas at university Y, they might have written eight or ten in the same time. I am sure there is much hyperbole, and in any case arts degrees have always placed great emphasis on the individual student’s willingness to study in college libraries. However, if work is not set and marked, such solitary study runs the risk of being exceptionally lonely and non-developmental. This in turn reduces any incentive to leave the student bar.
Over 17000 students were surveyed by HEPI last term, including some who are studying under the new fee regime. For these undergraduates, and all their successors, university debts could rise to well over £60,000 once all the interest over many years has been added in. These students will be aware that while medics are getting nearly 20 hours of contact time every week, historians will be lucky to get much more than eight. No wonder that in the same survey, 58% of undergraduates said their degrees were worse than expected, and 29% felt their course was not “value for money”.
Our universities remain some of the very best in the world, but this week’s student satisfaction survey reflects a change in mood on campus that was inevitable and predictable. It represents a heartfelt cry for attention from young people who are struggling to justify to themselves why some university degrees cost so much, and offer so little.
King’s College School, Wimbledon
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