Thursday, 17 May 2012

Pop: Universities are in desperate need of grammar nazis


I have spent the last three years on a biomedical science course at the University of Lincoln. It wasn’t a bad place, the campus at the very least is nice, and I’ve even encouraged Blip to start a course there in September. Over this time I have had one problem which finally came to a head, so to speak, in one of my final exams. 

This problem is with the staff that they employ to give us lectures. I had very few lecturers who could speak understandable English. They were highly skilled and intelligent when spoken to one-on-one, they could be asked to slow down and repeat things where necessary so the information was accessible.  In a lecture hall of around 70 students however, they tended to get caught up in their presentation and were impossible to understand. Other students played games where they made a tally of how many distinguishably wrong words were said, such as saying 'like' where it wasn’t necessary or replacing specific with pacific. One in particular would ask indecipherable questions and then shout at the students for being stupid when they answered that they didn’t understand him. 

Their lecture notes tended to be enough to get by, at the very least they gave an indication of what we should study from the recommended textbooks. You might be thinking that I could have asked for help from a designated official, you would be wrong. My form tutor had the worst English of the lot and had particular trouble reading it. In the entirety of the three years he never responded to an email correctly, I would either receive nothing or, as happened in one situation, he had recently asked us if he wanted our test results so my request for help went unanswered. 

I put up with all this, their knowledge was so much that I appreciated the opportunity to be able to gain from them. What I find abhorrent however is, as I mentioned, what happened in my exam. I opened my paper, read through the questions and found this.
‘What is the significance tumour markers and its role in malignant disease?’

This was a question in a third year biomedical science exam, an exam which determines the outcome of our entire degree, and it is practically indecipherable. There is no attention to grammar, to be honest it looks like it comes from google translate. As I said, I don’t mind that the rest of the course had such poor English but an exam should be better thought through than that. Think of the implications that it has for the marking, if these people are writing the exams with such little knowledge of the language then how can they be marking it accurately? Surely if a course at a university is going to have such a large number of foreign staff members it should be independently marked and the exam questions should be written by a standardised independent body. 

But instead I was forced to write on my exam paper what I presumed the question was supposed to say, in effect I wrote my own question. 

This is what happens in a country where it is considered racist to demand competence at the English language for a high paid position. 

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