back to article Student leader demands lectures be 'put against the wall'

The leader of the UK's students has declared that "come the revolution", lectures would be put up against the wall and shot in favour of virtual teaching. Wes Streeting, the head of the National Union of Students, has dismissed lectures as redundant and out of date in an article in Policy Review Magazine, The Times reports. …


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  1. Dave 142

    lego man

    Lego man Wes Streeting should maybe try representing students rather than spending his time coming up with gimmicks to get himself in the news.

  2. Alex Walsh

    Those were the days

    I (vaguely) remember attending lectures in my first year at uni back in the early 90's. Strolled in once or twice in my dressing gown with a nice mug of tea to help with the horrendous hangover. One of my friends went one step further, changing all his courses so he didn't have any morning lectures. What a fool, he realised a couple of weeks later he could just not go to them. They helped but weren't either essential or mandatory to the course as long as you read a few books.

    "Podcast" the lot of them, have more and better tutorials and be done with it. It would have made my life much more manageable back then. We've recently started having technical courses webcast to us from our London office and something the intermediary of technology has made them seem a lot more interesting to boot...

  3. yonorri

    Came the revolution...

    As is noted in a future edition of 'The Encyclopedia Galactica' when the revolution came 'Wes Streeting' was first against the wall.

  4. ark

    curious mind wants to know

    if lectures are shot who will create content for virtual teaching.

    hang on.

    is virtual refering to the media or to the value of the teaching ?

  5. Stef 4
    Thumb Down


    "Streeting said that as education budgets come under pressure, educational institutions should exploit new technologies, including online learning, to free up academics to conduct the sort of small scale tutorial sessions that are usually the preserve of a handful of top flight Unis."

    How does the first part of the sentence tie in with the last part of the sentence?

    Uni's don't have money, therefore instead of teaching 100 people at the same time with a single lecturer, they want to have lots of sessions with less people and a lecturer each? Is this some magical anti-budget made from anti-matter?

  6. Karim Bourouba
    Paris Hilton


    Who didnt like going to lectures? it meant you could interact with real people while you ignored the lecturer.

    And, in my case where one lecture theatre could hold almost 600 people on two levels, you could sit at the back at the top completely anonymously.

    Virtual lectures would mean that noone would see you not want to be there.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Idle twats

    Virtual learning = staying in bed with the laptop - idle twats

  8. mwk

    The NUS is just shit

    and writing stories about them only encourages them.

  9. LuMan


    ...if students don't actually go to University how will they be able to sneer, snobbishly down their noses, at those of us who chose* not to go?

    *Actually, I've just been corrected by my University-educated colleague. 'People don't choose not to go [apparently]. They don't go because they're not clever enough to get in.'

    ..I rest my case, M'Lord!

    Mine's the one with the copy of The Beano stuffed in a Maths book in the pocket.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Speak to the tape recorder

    the body is engaged elsewhere.

    Lectures have to have been the biggest waste of time ever, just some ego trip for some old farts who didn't get it.

    The education system in the UK is bogus, it is not about ability or knowledge it is about making those who have bought into the system richer for very little work.

    Who is with me, let's sue the entire education system for every hour stolen, we need never work again!

  11. Kev Jones
    Paris Hilton

    erm... a student's pov

    "Sometimes they even pick up some valuable information" - unlikely!

  12. King Edward I

    As a student...

    ...I should probably be massivly insulted by the second half of this article. But I'm not. IT'S ALL TRUE!

  13. Justabloke 1

    Marquis De Sade

    Someone should explain to all "Student union" officials that..

    A) The real world doesn't care what they say or think

    B) We don't care if they go on strike

    C) So important I'm gonna say it again... We really don't care.

    So stop pratting about and get on with attending the lectures that clearly you are trying to avoid altogether.. or dont... because SEE A & C above.

  14. Dark Ian

    Ha, "revolution"?!

    I bet he has a Che t-shirt and everything. I wonder just how 'revolutionary' his spoonfed £23k/year graduate job will be (if he can find one/have one place in his lap) when he can't bum around with the NUS any longer.

    Maybe lectures are so crammed because every kid is encouraged to go to university. The degree as a qualification has become devalued, and it's hardly surprising that now it's turning out that a degree isn't a ticket to a good job.

    "Call us old fashioned, but we thought occasional lectures and frequent binge drinking were the whole point of University."

    That's more accurate. It means that the sorting of the wheat from the chaff at exam time is more effective.

  15. Jerome 0


    "as its bars stand empty"

    Nice one!

  16. The Indomitable Gall


    Did TV destroy the theatre?

    Is all our high culture beamed to the goggle box?


    The TV is stuffed full of Big Brother and World's Most Dangerous Fluffy Animals.

    Clearly there's still some magic in things happening for real in front of you.

  17. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Social learning

    What this dweeb's forgotten is that aside from the academic side, university is a pivotal place for social learning... it's not just about being parrot fed regurgitated "learning material". Without this opportunity, many students would still be the introverted, socially clueless types that they were just before they started university.

  18. npupp 1

    i can has smarts?

    huh, he's sounding more and more like a bone-fide politician: desperate to grab headlines with ill-conceived vapourous statements and ignoring the will of his electorate.

    i envisage he'll rise quite far!

    Mines the stop sign, in respect for the makers of signage that'll go under if students stop binge drinking.

  19. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Charlie

    Not convinced

    I had a couple of modules that I turned into de facto lectureless environments where I didn't turn up once, and did all my learning via the vle and online resources. To an extent this was more useful because I could tailor my studying to my needs rather than be dictated to blandly in a 100+ person lecture room. It also reasserts the focus of University on personal study and development, which is important given the massively growing number of new students who treat University as a schoolroom where they're led by the hand through everything.

    It's not all good though. There's the big problem that a lot of lecturers are uselessly old fashioned, but still excellent academics with a lot to share. You could just kick them out and bring in younger, more technology-savvy replacements, but you'd be losing a lot of valuable personalities and experience that way.

    In addition, the pedagogic virtues of virtual environments and their effects on knowledge transfer are under researched and not greatly understood. It's hard to believe other than by cutting off the large amount of communication represented in body language, intonation, facial expression etc you're not in some way derogating the quality of the teaching experience.

    Furthermore, property, location and the physical experience are important parts of defining a University's brand and providing a sense of value. As tuition fees have lead to students feeling increasingly more like consumers than academics, the tangible qualities of a University education (rather than just the degree you get out of it) are being increasingly stressed. Unless individual Universities take it upon themselves to make significant evolutions in their VLEs, they risk massively diluting the uniqueness of the experience they offer, greatly affecting the value of their brand. What makes Durham much different to UCLAN if all you're doing is sitting at home in front of a PC?

    the migration to virtual environments further blurs the lines between

  21. Martin Lyne


    I've been involved with various elearning stuff both at tech end and also the recieving end. It's not as good a real lecturer that engages their audience.

    Good fore late night refreshers and the occasional gap filler if you miss something.

    Students are just moaning they have to get up and go out with a hangover. Or someone is looking for some easy publicity. Win, in that case.

  22. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse
    Thumb Up

    Well I didn't vote for him...

    Well done El Reg for a very pragmatic retort to a self aggrandising fuckwit.

    Ahhh the old halcyon days of University. I used to love lectures. STAS and Systems Architecture were the perfect soundtracks to sleep off a hangover to.

  23. disgruntled yank

    good point

    About the rest. A public lecture by sometime astronaut, later senator, Harrison Schmidt, was the first indication that I could achieve REM sleep in plastic seats with backs ending in the lumbar area; for true confirmation it required 9 am lectures.

    If meatspace lectures lack a point, why should video lectures be better, though?

  24. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Changing the Paradigm. .... in dDutch with Mutual IntelAIgents for CyberIntelAIgents .... 4CIAI2

    A Bar makes a Very Convivial Head Clinic ....... for All Manner of Virtual Flights of Fancy with Phreaking Controllers.

    Manchurian Candidate Class Non State Actors ..... Enabling Facilities.

    And Stabling for Sir John Sawers's Single Intelligence Account is a Valid Dynamic Question Answered.?!

  25. breakfast Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Now that is leadership...

    It shows how out of touch the Student representatives are when El Reg has a better idea of their needs than the Student Union do.

    Good job you guys are here really.

    In a virtual learning environment there's really no opportunity for trying to time arriving so you are sat next to that hottie you've been looking for an excuse to talk to for weeks...

  26. Bernie 2

    this is a title

    Isn't the whole point of going to Uni to gain knowledge and wisdom from your lecturers?

    If you replace them with "online learning" or "virtual learning environments" or whatever he was banging on about then you're getting no more insight than you can already get for free using Google or your local library.

    I say the entire concept of University is outdated and obsolete. Why do you need a degree to get a good job anyway? It's arbitrary elitist nonsense.

    The sooner we convince companies that they should actually, oh I dunno, train their employees properly, the sooner they can start hiring people who actually want to do the job. With everyone being trained from scratched in how to do their dream job, everyone would suddenly become happy and fulfilled. Unemployment would all but cease and with universal job satisfaction crime would stop overnight.

    People wouldn't always get their first choice of job, but there are plenty of alternatives out there, they'd find something they enjoyed soon enough.

    So maybe a few important people might slip through the net and become doctors or surgeons or something but I'd rather live in a world with total job satisfaction and then possibly have my life cut short by some maniac pretending to be a surgeon than live a long and empty life filling in forms for the government.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If lectures would be virtual and it doesn't matter where you are and when you 'attend', just do an OU degree.

    Read the course books, attend the odd small group tutorial at a local college, and Bob's your Uncle, you've got a degree. You could even work to pay for it at the same time.

    The bonus is no massive student loan.

  28. Dave 142

    @Dark Ian

    I can assure you that Wes Streeting is no revolutionary, he's just another New Labour robot and as loyal as they come.

  29. Efros

    What a prat

    Interactive learning is expensive, not only in setup but also in terms of ongoing costs. Fail to invest the spondoolicks you end up with a crap system, crap system will result in a crap experience for the students, crap experience means crap results. I think a better way of saving money would be to do away with arseholes pretending to be important, student politics was always a about a bunch of twats trying to outtwat each other.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When I was a lad..

    At university some 20 years or so ago.

    There was an instance of a lectures that serve as a lesson how not to teach.

    In one, (chemistry, electron shell symmetry or something) there were the 40 of us in an classroom, the process went like this.

    Lecturer put slide up on projector

    Lecturer read what was on slide

    We scribbled down what was on slide

    She took slide off just as we were finishing taking notes and put up another one.

    Result: Copying out of slides 100%, learning 0%

    We were young and inexperienced and took this - as mature adults you'd be round at the Department head's office demanding the lecturer's resignation. Or someone would take the notes for photcopying and the others would ask questions. I suspect she knew nothing and the above technique served to stiffle interaction with students.

    On a lighter note, in a lecture on Pascal for the computing module of the course, in a banked auditorium I was able to discretely read the days paper while making jsut enough headway in learning to pass that module. When i came to the exam instead of answering a question about creating a lookup table for sin/cos of angles by giving the coding for a lookup table, I answered by explaining how it could be done as a function using natural logarithms.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The NUS don't represent anyone...

    ...except themselves. They're just a bunch of course drop outs playing at politics. When I was a student I don't know of anyone who gave a damn what they said, thought or did. In fact given their rather naive cliched lefty politics they were a bit of a joke.

  32. Sooty

    what they don't realise

    is that universities don't exist to teach anymore, they exist to do research so that they look good. Actually teaching students is just an annoying inconvenience that they have to put up with to fund the research.

    That's why a large number of lecturers are so horrifically poor.

  33. Rod MacLean

    @ Dark Ian

    "Maybe lectures are so crammed because every kid is encouraged to go to university. The degree as a qualification has become devalued, and it's hardly surprising that now it's turning out that a degree isn't a ticket to a good job."

    I think you hit the nail right on the head. The whole point of university is to perpare you and give you the tools you need in order to aquire knowledge. That patently doesn't happen any more.

    I know guys who got better degrees than I did but who are thick as mince. Their degrees seemed to consist of nothing more than writing down notes in lectures and then repeating the important parts in exams. That only teaches you how to be a parrot and employers know it...

  34. Peter Bradley
    Thumb Up

    Just read a book

    Somebody once defined a lecture as, "A means of transforming lecturer's notes into student's notes without passing through the mind of either". I agree.

    Just read/watch/listen to the notes. Better still, read a recent book. Most Uni lecturers I come across are still using notes that were, arguably, marginally useful ten years ago. Where I work, they teach programming using VB(!) and never even teach the students to get out of static context in the main() method.



  35. Anonymous Coward

    Why have so many universities if that is the case?

    With virtual lectures, there could be just one university offering each subject with top scientists in each topic area presenting lectures in their speciality.

    Students could stay at home, obviating the need for all those halls of residence or student houses. They could attend tutorials and practical sessions, even take their examinations at their local educational establishment, yet still get world-class lectures form world-class lecturers.

    Places would only be limited by the number of tutors available, but tutors could be drawn from industry as well as academia, some tutorials groups could be scheduled in the evening or at wekends to suit mature students working full-time.

    I'm sure this sounds familiar - there must be an institution doing much of this already. Milton Keynes springs to mind!

  36. Paul Johnston
    Thumb Down


    Here at Manchester the students were complaining that with all tbhe fees they pay VLE were a con and what they wanted was real time with lectures.


  37. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Open University anyone?

    As an old crusty in corduroys I do conventional and online learning. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the Open University who have been doing this sort of thing for 30+ years. Basically the drop-out rate is much higher for distance and online learning because you have less peer and staff support. The people who do get through, however, do very well. But, if you're just 18 and unused to independently minded learning, a conventional environment is probably better - with or without the support of alcohol.

  38. ThomH

    A slightly positive experience with virtual learning

    I get quite a lot from the various courses that I don't take in real life but have free access to lecture recordings for via iTunes U. Not as much as I used to from being actually enrolled on courses, and hence bothering to buy the books and having someone to discuss them with though. And there's a world of difference between having recordings of actual lectures and having someone prepare materials intended to stand entirely without lectures.

    Something I do recall from university is the NUS being a useless, unsolicited pest, my main interactions with them being whenever they'd send their people to stand strategically around the university and tell anybody who didn't attend the latest inquorate general meeting (which without fail included me) that they didn't deserve oxygen.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Lectures? Oh yeah, I knew there was something I meant to do last year...

  40. Shakje

    As with so much of current democracy...

    The NUS, by condemning binge drinking, are alienating the people they are meant to represent. Twats.

  41. Dan 35

    Notably Useless Students

    Bah numpty

    The NUS is beyond an irrelevance, 8 years of being a `student' and never been a member. I can not honestly name one useful or good thing the NUS has done in all that time.

    Unfortunately this pillock is so stupid as to think lectures are for direct learning of course materials, they are actually for. (Note. applies only to hard sciences)

    Ensuring the student gets out of bed, has an approach at a wash, and comes near a library etc...

    Seeing if the student is alive

    So the lecturer can overtly stress some points that are obviously going to be on the exam

    To get at least some of the students to talk to each other

    And importantly to allow the student body to work out who the smarter ones are so they can ask them questions instead of forever bothering staff.

    And just as a basic point, I get the data for marks versus attendance. There is a definite benefit to turning up (on average a grade bound)

  42. Efros
    Paris Hilton

    Screw all this

    Return to the seminar system, no lectures, 3 hour seminars with papers to be prepared and worked through or presented. See if they like that any better.

    Paris cos she prefers the one on one.

  43. Dave 142

    @Dan 35

    unless you specifically asked not to be a member then you were, every student is automatically a member of their student's union

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A union for today's students

    What a laugh. They all know that unions just cut into Daddy's profits.

  45. A 11

    Streeting never went to lectures

    As an Historian he never actually went to any lectures despite the fact the History faculty was approximately 30 seconds from our college. If he had he might know that Cambridge actually has the largest lecture theatre in the country so even in the elite they believe in packing them in.

    It's three stories high and all the lecturers have to use microphones so you can hear them.

  46. C.B
    Thumb Up

    Even though...

    Even though it takes a special kind of awfulness to rise to the top of any students' union, the point is very valid. Lectures are very inefficient at passing information to students - a common university experience is looking at back at one's notes during revision and thinking "When the hell did I learn about this?"

    Problems class, tutorials and an afternoon in the library are far better ways to actually learn, but often neglected in favour of a lecture-heavy timetable which interrupts the lecturers' research time and the students' study time.*

    *Okay, so given unstructured free time hardly any student can be trusted to study. But most buckle down to it once the exams are in sight. .

    For those who consider lectures a ticket to a social life: don't forget laboratory/practical sessions, where you have far more opportunity to talk.

  47. Roger Moore

    Technology in Lectures

    Good to see that the NUS is still as clueless now as it was in my day as an undergrad. What their fearless leader seems to have completely overlooked is the use of technology in lectures. For example techniques such as peer instruction using clickers (or even just paper flash cards). This gets the students trying to explain their understanding of a subject to each other - something that has been demonstrated in multiple different scientific studies to improve student learning. Its a little hard to get students to do this while listening to a virtual lecture in their room. These have their place but will not replace all "lectures" - although the form those lectures take may well change over time.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    generation game

    I'm sure the majority of readers on here find this article very witty and cutting. Sadly, these days students have to acquire enormous debts - essentially a tax, since so few of them will ever pay off the monthly compound interest, never mind the loan itself - just to get into Universities. You'd think, for the price, they'd be giving the degrees away regardless of academic prowess or attendance, but in fact they have mostly become even more stringent*, with most modules requiring both good grades and near-perfect attendance to avoid dreaded (and costly) resits.

    Most students are trying to balance their course work load with a job (or several), and on top of that, squeeze in something approaching a life for themselves. Is it that odd that they might get frustrated at being expected to attend lectures, which are typically scheduled at inconvenient times (whether 9am or 4pm... and usually both, on the same day, with hours of nothing to do in between) and generally involve a junior member of the teaching staff mumbling into a microphone, reciting his notes - which he's helpfully typed up into a thrilling powerpoint - and which rarely offer any insight above or beyond a basic summary of the subject, culminating in a Q&A in which your fellow students attempt not to dribble while they ask rudimentary questions about how to spell the key words, even though they've been lit up on the projector screen for the past hour.

    Amid that sort of 'academic' climate, is it so odd that students might consider the idea of studying online, at a time that suits them?

    *although not so much with the entry requirements...

  49. Anonymous Coward

    Lectures? Vital

    Oddly at my old University (Keele) some of the history lecturers were so good that they got attendances of 120% of the course.

    And yes, in my field (not history), I went to every lecture. This was partly for the content, partly because it tells me the angle that the particular tutor has so that I can do the essay better, but mostly because of the 2-minute throwaway comment that suddenly opens my eyes to an entire area of thought that had never occurred to me. Occasionally lecturers, having studied something for 20 years, actually know a lot more than they bother to write down.

    Keele, superb place.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Good idea

    As strange as it sounds a combination of both ideas would be beneficial, if the lecture was taped and could be accessed again if you miss the lecture, then this would be great.

    I for one actually learned more once I was in my profession and the course only covered about 1/4 of what I needed to know... perhaps if they made the lectures more interesting then they would have higher attendance...

    Damn, I am being far too sensible for a Friday...

    Paris, because she has learnt a lot at lots of universities :)

  51. James Hughes 1


    I went through university some 20 years ago, and went to 95% of lectures, perhaps more.

    Some were as described above, OHP boredom, just writing down (database 101 or something). Other however, were very good, with lecturers who really knew what they were doing (Computer Graphics is a case in point). I learn a hell of a lot from lectures - much more from books which i find very difficult to 'learn' from.

    That said however, I think that I also benefited from forcing myself up to lectures - this means you do get up, you do end up actually doing work, and LEARNING (Yes, University does involve work if you want to learn anything). This is something completely missing from online style learning - there is no real incentive to get on with it without the stucture of lectures. Of course, many people have the determination and wherewithall to learn all they need from books/online course, but for the others there is no substitute for lectures and 'classes'

    So, perhaps the best option is lectures and online style learning.

    A question : If everyone learnt online, there would only be the need for the OU - everyone would learn from home. No point in having expensive campuses. halls of residence etc, if all you need is a net connection. And that would be disaster.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Dave 142

    "unless you specifically asked not to be a member then you were, every student is automatically a member of their student's union"

    But if your Student Union was not part of the NUS, as Heriot-Watt's wasn't when I was there*, then the NUS doesn't speak for you.

    There were a couple of votes on the subject while I was there. As the student population was 90% male small-C-conservatives on science or engineering courses, the NUS pitch did not go down well. Even when the University integrated the local arts college the overall vote was about 75% against joining.

    I also remember the local SNP candidate during election time voicing an anti-Falklands war comment - that didn't go down well either.

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