Letter to the Committee Specialist from
Dr Alan Ryan, Warden, New College, Oxford (HE 100)
1. I imagine that the Select Committee willrightlybe
concentrating on institutions with high drop-out rates. I would
like to offer one thought from an institution with a drop-out
rate close to zero, and a couple of thoughts culled from teaching
at a variety of institutions from the City University of New York
to New College.
2. We have a drop-out rate that is effectively
zero for academic and financial reasons; in very few years does
any student fail the first public examination twice; and where
they have trouble in later years, we almost invariably contrive
to give them leave of absence and get them through their finals
a year later. But, such unmanageable problems as students do have
are almost always deep psychological problems, and not intellectual
inadequacies. I should think that we lose something between one
and two students a year from a population of 400 undergraduates
and 200 graduates for this reason. A number of these losses may
be inevitable, since pathologies such as schizophrenia strike
in late teenage and the early twenties. The more impressive fact
is that most students are rescued by the college's welfare system,
the university's counselling service, and the medical services.
This suggests to me a couple of thoughts about
higher drop-out rates.
3. One is that hard-up institutions may
be forced to sacrifice welfare services to the preservation of
a minimum teaching and research establishment, and that there
may be something to be said for pushing money across from the
teaching budget to the welfare system.
4. A second is that it may be that students
are starting to behave like their American counterpartsthey
do not much mind abandoning degree courses that will have no pay-off
in their careers, and they are happy to drop in and out of school,
as they drop in and out of employment, in order to pick up a degree
more slowly and affordably. This would, I think, be acceptable
as an approach to education if universities were well adapted
to it; they possibly aren't at present.
5. The third, however, is that there may
now be a real mismatch between degree level workeven pretty
low grade degree level workand the prior educational experience
of the student. If universities are providing remedial secondary
education and passing it off as degree level work, it must risk
producing an experience which simultaneously gives students the
impression that they are inadequately prepared and that what they
are being given is not in fact what they were promised. Again,
it seems to me that remedial education is a very good thingbut
ought to be offered openly and efficiently.