Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)


Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)


Article excerpt


ECTURES are for thickoes.

LThat was the blunt warning I received from a sophisticated second year student within days of arriving at arguably the country's top university in 1972.

His logic was impeccable. Lecturers dumbed down their books into accessible gobbets for the less intelligent students. Those who aspired to the academic top flight should read the complete books instead.

Major advantages of this approach included not needing to get up in the morning, and being able to regurgitate some less familiar quotes when the time came to sit examinations.

So naturally I took his advice and attended virtually no lectures in my time at university, apart from those that promised a laugh or were obvious period pieces. The finest of which was Nikolaus Pevsner's series on architecture, illustrated with pre-war black and white lantern slides.

This meant that the grand total of relevant "teaching" I received each term amounted to eight hours of individual supervision by a usually moderately distinguished historian, who typically gave me a glass of sherry, listened with a slightly condescending smile as I read out an essay, and suggested which books I should read next.

I am not convinced that I would regard this as fantastic value for money if I were racking up PS9,000 a year in student debt to cover my tuition fees, instead of having all my educational and living costs covered by the generous ratepayers of North Tyneside, as was the case back then.

The reason for these reminiscences was my decision last week to accept an invitation to a twoday conference, widely acclaimed as the most interesting and exciting event in its field. Within little more than an hour on the first day I felt an urgent need to pop out for some fresh air. Shortly afterwards I found myself in the comforting embrace of a pub. It was just like Cambridge 40 years ago all over again, except with staggeringly higher beer prices.

Why do people pay large amounts of money to hear people recite edited versions of stuff you could read on their websites any time? One major advantage of the technological revolution is that one no longer even needs to trudge around to a library to access their work, or run the risk of someone else having borrowed the critical book. …

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