Re: [xmca] Research Degrees in Europe

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sun Mar 18 2007 - 06:45:39 PST

Thanks for the additional hints, Davids.

I abhor the current educational situation in public higher education in the
US with its heavy emphasis on "efficiency" extraordinarily high
student-teacher ratios, and constant
fixation on new technologies of communication for a quick, cheap fix. I find
myself having to counsel very well meaning grad students who, faced with the
severe needs of their
students, NOT to work more than 19 hours a week, and as you say, David. That
means that the undergrads get stiffed.

But the situation is highly contradictory, so it is probably not worth going
into in detail unless there is genuine interest on the list. Many students
are at the university under
false pretences and/or false expectations. They want a degree. They are told
that this degree will secure them a high standard of living. I routinely, on
the first day of class,
ask students to list the prior courses they have taken in the major and a
key idea from that course. Many can only remember the NUMBER of the course,
because that is
what counts for the "degree check." Multiple choice exams are rife. Students
are experts at sniffing out what parts of a text is likely to appear on a
multiple choice exam and
learn to skip over parts that provide contextualizing background as
irrelevant, in a manor analogous to the way kids learn to skip background
info in playing Carmen San Diego.

I spend a good deal of time working on counter measures that can be
implemented within the bureaucracy, and there are some. But the problems

Professors also get stiffed in this arrangement. Junior professors
especially. They cannot be promoted for the quality of their teaching, only
their publications. So the incentive
to put extra time into teaching is a moral commitment based on an
anachronistic faith in the value of genuine education.

Despite all of that, the norm in many places is for professors to teach hard
and make themselves available to students, for TA's not to be treated as
slave labor, and for
genuine education to happen often enough to get one out of bed and to the
office regularly.

I might add that at the Univ. of California, admitting a foreign grad
student is a huge commitment of resources. The fees are extraordinarily
high, so high that they have the
effect, over a 2-3 year period, of denying access to equally qualified
residents of the state whose voters pay the taxes for the education.

Contradictions of higher ed in advanced (sic!) capitalism anyone?

On 3/17/07, David Kellogg <> wrote:
> Thanks, David (Kirshner), but I've got a British MA.
> The Open Uni MA is really called a Master of Research, and it looks well
> worth doing; in general, the folks at Milton Keynes would support what Peter
> said about coursework. I think what they expect, if you are going to opt out
> of it, is a proven research record, meaning multiple publications in
> refereed journals.
> Actually, I'd always wanted to do my Ph.D. here at our university,
> partly as an experiment in the content based learning of advanced Korean.
> But we haven't been granted permission to launch our Ph.D. program, and it
> now looks like we won't be for another seven years. So I really am out
> shopping.
> A lot of British unis offer research and/or distance Ph.Ds (e.g.
> Birmingham and Nottingham). But you really DON'T get much supervision; you
> meet your advisor, and that's pretty much it. Now, if you've got a good
> advisor, or if you don't need much supervision, that's okay, but I know
> people whose advisors meet them only a few times a year and don't have much
> to say beyond "No, do it again." They've been at it for years, and the
> university doesn't care; it's free money as far as they're concerned. So one
> thing to look at is whether or not there's a time limit (Open University has
> a six year limit, including the coursework).
> Yes, of course, I exaggerate: there do exist undergraduate courses in
> the USA taught by professors. But I think the 19-hour limit or 20-hour limit
> (often been crammed down the university's throat by union rules or labor
> laws) is frequently broken, particularly by novice teachers or people who
> are having trouble with the language. Where it isn't, undergraduates are
> often getting stiffed. So I think our old system was better. It also meant
> more professors got hired!
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> ---------------------------------
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