Why universities are wrong to downgrade the importance of grammar

Why universities are wrong to downgrade the importance of grammar

Standards at universities should be high and academic excellence ought to be the aim.

However, in order to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum and ensure ‘equity of opportunity’, the theory of ‘inclusive assessment’ has infected our once-great institutions of learning.

This phrase is a euphemism for the further erosion of standards – the opposite of what universities should stand for.

Professors and lecturers at Hull University – amongst others – have been advised against always insisting on good written English.

Marking down incorrect spelling, punctuation and grammar could be seen as ‘elitist’, apparently.

Hull’s policy states: “It can be argued constructing an academic voice means adopting a homogenous North European, white, male, elite mode of expression dependent on a high level of technical proficiency in written and spoken English, a mode of expression that obscures the students’ particularity.”

The university says it will now ‘challenge this status quo’. And this is where the poet Philip Larkin was a librarian.

Students do not improve if the standards they are expected to achieve are poor.

We should be upholding standards in English.

As a university lecturer, I always corrected students’ work and helped them improve their English. There was only a small number of marks allocated for good grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax but it was still important. It is not discriminatory to demand high standards.

The ideas and creative content of essays and written work will always be given greater weight in exam and coursework marks. This happened when I worked in the university sector. I could recognise bright and hardworking students and reward them correctly by assessing their work.

They were not penalised unfairly when it was obvious they found English difficult. However, when no effort was made to correct or learn from mistakes then work was penalised. If a student had dyslexia that would be taken into account.

We should expect and demand high standards, and when students are finding it difficult measures should be put in place to support them.

We should never drop standards, otherwise, our educational institutions will become the laughingstock of the world. In the end, there will be no standards at all, and we might as well not bother with any form of higher education.

The world of work will be much harsher for those whose universities didn’t feel the need to impress upon them the importance of correct English.

Students leaving universities are already criticised by employers for poor use of language and being ‘unable to string a sentence together’.

If degrees are going to mean anything, employers must be convinced that a student has been through a rigorous and thorough educational process.

Degrees are supposed to be about academic attainment and a graduate should leave university with good written and spoken English – in other words, the ability to communicate clearly and concisely.

If not, we might want to question whether a university education is worth anything at all.

Using correct grammar is also important for simple, practical reasons of communication and understanding.

Writing is only half the process – the person reading it has to understand it as the writer intended.

That means expecting a certain standardisation of the language.

Take the first verse of Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Days’.

What are days for?

Days are where we live.

They come, they wake us

Time and time over.

They are to be happy in:

Where can we live but days?

But if you get the grammar wrong, the meaning changes…

What are days? For days are where?

We live. They come.

They wake us?

Time and time over!

They are to be happy!

In where can we live but?