Having experienced learning in the ‘backwards East’ it is clear that the West has much to learn about good education
As I approach my fourth week as a History and Politics Erasmus exchange student in the Czech Republic, lessons both intended and unintended are coming thick and fast. We were prepared at our universities for a change of culture, a change of society, and to expect a dip in teaching standards — because after all, the institutions of Central and Eastern Europe are just naturally no match for our Russell Groups and ‘Red Bricks’… right?
Well, as much as I’d hate to burst the reductive bubble that we place our top universities in, the standard of education on the flip side of the continent is almost undeniably better. Rather than being presented a list of ten all-too-similar courses and being told to pick four per semester, the exchange university here in the Czech Republic actually employs enough lecturers to cover a wide and expansive list of topics — imagine that? This allows students to study things that they are actually interested in, as opposed to the UK where you are forced to pick whichever module looks most appealing, or even vaguely interesting from the sorry bunch with which you are presented.
Next, Assessment — who doesn’t love the British way? You have one module, usually split 50 per cent into an exam, 50 per cent into coursework, or maybe even 70:30. This permits students to breeze through their education, turning up to the odd seminar (hangover permitting, of course) and fluking their way through a ‘lucky paper’ at the end, achieving a truly well-earned First. It is just great, isn’t it? Meanwhile, our ‘less advanced post-Communist neighbours’ actually encourage students to put effort in all the year round, dividing module assessment into knowledge of reading material, attendance and active participation, as well as the standard practise of writing essays, that normally equate to about 50 per cent of a module.
A final area, perhaps the most topical given recent British governmental changes: finances! Students here in the Czech Republic pay nothing, or at least next to nothing in comparison to our sizeable £9,000 price tag. Most shockingly however, many foreign students from across the continent also studying on the same Erasmus scheme as us Brits are also paying nothing to be here. Beautiful, isn’t it, that we pay £9,000 to a substandard university for the divine privilege of studying somewhere else, while also receiving the same level of interaction with our home university as everyone else, sometimes even less.
This argument is of course not applicable to all British institutions all of the time, but I can only write from experience. Stripped back however, the point remains that perhaps we need to untangle ourselves from the superiority complex we put ourselves in. Experiences like this make me truly grateful, although perhaps more for the EU than for my home institution (but that is another argument for another time).
If however, as an undergrad or postgrad you are given the opportunity to study abroad, take it! Especially when some schemes, Erasmus included, mean you do not encounter any financial implications except flights. As for me, I certainly won’t be carrying out any postgraduate schemes in the UK, I’d prefer to take a step back from our wildly advanced and vastly superior education system …