Susan Howitt and Anna Wilson have just published a very interesting opinion piece in the scientific journal EMBO Reports. It’s well worth reading.
Their piece is an update of a famous talk by Nobel laureate Peter Medawar, who asked the question: “Is the scientific paper a fraud?” — which is also well worth reading.
In actual fact the EMBO Reports piece is not much of an update because, as Howitt and Wilson observe, the sanitised version of science presented in scientific papers that Medawar complained of is still what usually gets published. As a result, students rarely get an insight into how science is really done: with much mess and failure along the way.
The education journalist Peter Wilby had a comment piece in the Guardian last week, in which he raised some interesting questions about the value of educational qualifications. The article resonated with me because it touched on an issue that I have become more and more aware of since assuming the role of Director of Undergraduate Studies: the meaning of a university degree.
Wilby starts from what is probably a widely accepted position:
“Education is regarded as an unmitigated good, of benefit to society, the economy and the individual. More means better, we think. In many respects, that is true: if we are a more tolerant, more inclusive society than we were 50 years ago, that is largely because most of us are better educated.”
But despite improvements in education he notes that many professions have been affected by a sort of qualification inflation, by which the minimum entry requirements have risen inexorably and, in some cases, without proper justification.
Mary Beard, a Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, is a well-known TV historian and currently also has a regular spot presenting ‘A Point of View‘ on BBC Radio 4.
In this week’s instalment, she ponders the survey culture that has swept the UK university system, asking if student satisfaction should be the most important driver of the educational system, even when students are paying £9000 a year.
Have a listen (or read the text) and see what you think.
Stefan Collini poses this interesting question in an article in yesterday’s Guardian.
What do you think?