A real scandal in education

Huge amounts of money are spent each year on university education; unfortunately, that is a scandal of epic proportions.

Several decades ago university classes generally were small, with university professors directly involved in teaching and marking students’ papers.

That is in sharp contrast to the situation today. Many classes nowadays are held in amphitheatres, with the professor so far away that there is a large television screen so that at least the voice is not totally disembodied. Students’ papers were seldom read by the professor, and for any questions or dialogue an appointment with the graduate student was required; only rarely could one meet with the professor.

In the present era, graduate students hold seminars and have very little to do with students afterwards. The former do not want to be bothered by students following classes. They mark papers but then want to get on with their own research projects or careers.

According to an article by Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail, to cite one example, at the University of Manitoba the teaching schedule is six hours a week for 13 weeks and nine hours a week for another 13 weeks. Of course, there may be preparation required, but if the professor is teaching anything other than a course tied to current events, the same lecture could be used over and over again. After class, more often than not the professor scurries off, personally providing nothing substantive to the students. Needless to say, at a very few small post-secondary institutions – not the big name prestige ones – the teaching staff is more accessible.

Professors spend their time on research, frequently on some esoteric subject that is devoid of any general interest.

Professors are ranked for their research or books, with the quantity determining their reputation. Columnist Wente stated that the output of scholars in English literature in five decades has soared from 13,000 per year to 72,000 efforts last year. Does anyone need further analysis of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet?

It has been estimated that university professors spend less than half of their time teaching. They are preoccupied writing books and papers, travelling to conferences or appearing on a panel discussing some obscure subject.

The purpose of university education clearly is to educate youngsters. Does anyone, for example, teach basic composition except in a school of journalism?

Professors complain that many of their students are functionally illiterate. As a reflection of the irrelevance of some university programs, at one major university 40 per cent of students drop out after their first year.

Some think post secondary institutions should be more available. Rather, funds should be spent more appropriately on the current delivery system.

To catch up with developments in emerging countries, we simply must do a better job with the existing post secondary institutions.


Bruce Whitestone