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August 2004, Week 5


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Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 30 Aug 2004 18:41:24 +0100
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Paul Ward writes:

>Is Leo seriously suggesting that someone who graduates with a First from
>Cambridge is somehow 'cleverer' or 'better qualified' than someone who
>graduates with a First from Teesside?

Cleverer, no.  Better qualified - in the sense that the Cambridge graduate
will have been required to acquire a wider range of academic knowledge and
then apply it in more versatile ways and without as many safety nets in the
assessment process - yes.  Point taken about the small tutorial groups and
better stocked libraries, but the students who have access to these
resources are expected to deliver more in using them.

>His rhetorical question about why alumni from Oxbridge do so much better
>in terms of earning power than those from his university is, I'm afraid,
>just daft. It is not because the degrees are tougher but simply because
>the graduates are far far far far more likely to be (at least reasonably)
>well connected in social terms (and even if they weren't before they
>attended Oxbridge, they probably will be afterwards).

And why can't the polyversity sector emulate that success?  The reason is
that a vicious (or virtuous, depending on whether you're in it or outside
it) circle is at work.  Oxbridge has a reputation for turning out high
calibre graduates (whatever their social background).  On the strength of
that the Oxbridge system forms links with high calibre employers and gets
its graduates into high-paying jobs.  You simply can't get a first from
Oxbridge without having a lot of academic ability to start with, working
very, very hard for the three years you're there and then delivering the
goods under intense pressure in the final exams.  In contrast to this, I
was recently chatting to the manager of a small post-production facilities
house in Newcastle.  The conversation eventually strayed to issues of
higher education.  After a courteous 'nothing personal' disclaimer, she
told me of when she'd had an application form for a job from someone who'd
graduated with a first in media studies from Teesside, which contained
elementary spelling and grammar mistakes that she believes would have
failed her in an O-level exam.  If I'd told her that her expectations, i.e.
'the market' is the root of the problem, she'd have just laughed.  If her
experience is in any way representative, though, the market IS the root of
the problem, in that it has higher expectations of graduates than we can
currently deliver, generally speaking.

The only way to crack this is to demand a higher level of attainment from
our students, and to work out ways of providing the support to enable them
to deliver it.  Nowhere is this more important than in film and media
studies, which have come to symbolise the 'mickey mouse degree' in the
right-wing press.  I guess I'm probably unusual if not unique in being both
an active member of the Conservative Party and a media studies lecturer in
a former polytechnic.  I've seen many a Tory friend virtually have  a heart
attack when I reveal my occupation; but putting forward the common sense
arguments that hopefully aren't news to anyone reading this thread (e.g.
surely it's only sensible to promote and encourage the systematic academic
study of the forms of mass communication which exert far greater political
influence than, say, literature or classical music, neither of which are
saddled with this preconception) usually induces them to calm down.  When I
then explain that my students are required to do somewhat more than sit and
watch soap operas all day (shock, horror - they even have to WRITE about
them!), this generally comes as something of a revelation.

I honestly don't think we're doing our students any favours by turning a
blind eye to plagiarism or relying on forms of assessment which are
inherently less efficient at testing key skills than others.  If the
'polyversity' sector is to survive and prosper, especially when its
students have to make such a huge up-front financial investment in their
education, it's got to show that its graduates are capable of achieving
things which school leavers can't. Sacrificing standards on the altar of
inclusivity and equal opportunities is not going to achieve that.

>2. Why is it that a majority [last I heard, it was 50%-plus, which is
>statistically of enormous significance] of Members of Parliament are
>graduates of Oxbridge? (Someone else answer this one, as Leo no doubt
>believes it's because Oxbridge have the 'best' degrees . . . )

As requested, I won't attempt to answer it, but merely add the speculation
that the 50% plus contingent is probably split pretty evenly between the
three major parties.

>It's admirable that Leo has worked his balls off to get where he is, but a
>shame that he cannot see that it is iniquitous that others can get far far
>more by having to do far far less, because they have a head start of some
>kind on the basis of their background.

Please give me credit where credit's due - I'm doing the best I can to hand
Mr. Blair his P45 and replace him with a grammar school educated Hungarian
immigrant!  You never know; this time next year he could be drowning his
sorrows with his best friend on a ranch in Crawford, Texas.  Oh bugger, I
forgot - they're both teetotallers.

>That annoys a lot of people, and their annoyance is not simple envy or
>'liberal' whinging, it's a recognition that something is not right in the
>structure of society.

Agreed, and the fundamental wrong is embodied in those people who expect to
get something for nothing: be it rich kids of limited ability who are
hoisted up the ladder by family connections, or others of limited ability
who believe that identifying themselves with some  minority group or other
entitles them to an unfair advantage through institutionalised positive
discrimination.  As for the rich kids, life is too short to worry about
people who got to where they are more easily than you did; the trick is to
provide a genuinely level playing field for the rest of us, and not to
penalise those who get where they want to the hard way.


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