Camilla Turner, Education Editor
16 February 2017 • 7:09pm
Universities are admitting students who are “almost illiterate”, lecturers warn as they complain that dropping entry requirements has led to a generation of undergraduates who cannot read, write or speak proper English.
Almost half of academics (48 per cent) do not think that students are adequately prepared for university study, according to a Times Higher Education (THE) survey of over 1,000 academic staff.
Many academics believe that slipping standards are to blame, with one lecturer from a red brick university telling the survey: “Each year, the entry requirements for undergraduate programmes are reduced, meaning we get a high number of students who are almost illiterate.”
Another senior lecturer in nursing at a university in northern England, said: “We can now see a whole generation of registered nurses who cannot read critically or write coherently but who have somehow passed a degree – this is worrying”.
A third (33 per cent) of academic staff felt that international students do not have adequate language skills to study at university. One lecturer at a London university told the survey that they wondered “how some of our [postgraduate] students got their first degrees, as the quality of their written English is really poor”.
Plagiarism remains a concern, according to the survey, with 60 per cent of academics saying that they have caught students cheating at least once, and 28 per cent saying that they “regularly suspect” undergraduates of cheating.
A number of lecturers also felt that the National Student Survey (NSS) gave students “too much power”, with academic rigour suffering becoming a secondary consideration.
“Many universities have shifted their focus towards student satisfaction at the expense of academic quality,” one academic told the survey.
The Higher Education and Research Bill, championed by Universities Minister Jo Johnson, includes plans to place student satisfaction at the heart of a new ranking system for universities.
The bill outlines the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), where universities will be awarded gold, silver or bronze medals on the basis of a range of factors including student satisfaction, teaching excellence and preparation for the world of work. Universities are currently ranked based on quality of research output.
Education leaders told The Telegraph earlier this year that they fear the bill, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords, will lead to a "fantastically dangerous" culture where university staff are forced to pander to the demands of students which could undermine quality.
The answer is not to grade them based upon preparing students for work, that would actually dig the hole deeper. Rather, one cannot grade on what is needed - responsible critical thinking skills. Personal experience - at a university ranked in the top 15 in the world, this is an issue! It was during my time there and that is over 10 years ago.