Save Our Supervisions

A report has recommended that Cambridge cut down on one-on-one supervisions and scrap underachieving MPhils in a bid to improve efficiency.

Borysiewicz history philosophy senior tutors supervisions vice-chancellor

A report delivered to Uni big wigs recommends a major reduction in the number of one-to-one supervisions in a move to reduce spending.

Presented by the Working Groups on Organisational and Financial Efficiency, the report recommended cutting down on one-to-one supervisions and scrapping some MPhil courses.

The Working Groups estimate that increasing the student-to-academic ratio could save the Uni £600,000 per year, while each MPhil course scrapped would save up to £100,000 a year. The report was delivered to the Senior Tutors’ Committee who are now considering its recommendations.

Students first heard of plans from their Directors of Studies earlier this week. First year historian David Wilson was told by his DoS on Monday to expect changes to his supervision programme and said “I was shocked to hear that the whole way we were taught would be changed so dramatically.”

Henry Charrington, a second year historian at John’s, was also worried by the possibility of increasing the size of supervision groups. He told The Tab: “one-on-one supervisions are the reason I came to Cambridge and are what makes it different. It would be a shame if they reduce them.”

The Faculty of History is currently one of the biggest providers of so-called “singleton” supervisions.

But Dr. Mark Goldie, Chair of the Faculty of History Board, insisted that the Fac would fight any plans to increase numbers in supervisions, telling The Tab: “there is no plan to abolish one-to-one supervisions and never has been.”

If changes go ahead, those hardest hit would be Arts and Humanities subjects, who account for the one-to-one supervisions. 13% of all supervisions are currently on a one-to-one basis.

But not all students think it’s a bad thing. On learning the news, one second year philosopher at Sidney, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Tab: “group supervisions would be an improvement, making it easier to follow the conversation and make notes at the same time.”

Vice-Chancellor, Leszek Borysiewicz welcomed the report, saying it was time to reassess whether one-on-one teaching is the best method, but insisted no faculties would be forced to change their systems unless they agreed.

Speaking to Varsity, Professor Borysiewicz said when he was teaching, he “preferred to do supervisions six-to-one because I happen to like the group dynamic.”

Professor Gillian Evans, recently retired Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History, told The Tab: “the key thing is that this is not a Faculty matter and I would be surprised if all the colleges had agreed this.”

With large cuts in Government spending on education expected over the coming months, the Uni will have to tighten its belt somehow. Senior Tutors’ abilities to influence the teaching structure of individual Colleges and Faculties could set an interesting precedent as to what power Senate House will have in changing the way subjects are taught.