ABOUT THE NEW MA DISSERTATIONS

This post was lost during the updating of the UAB’s blog software, somebody may have read a longer version. Here I go again…

This week I’m done assessing MA dissertations for three different MA degrees and now’s the time to consider what the new European convergence plans for higher education, which we know as plain ‘Bolonia,’ have brought about. Not much that is good.

In my time as a student, ehem, mid 1980s to mid 1990s, it took 11 years for someone to complete a PhD in Spain: 5 for the ‘Licenciatura,’ 2 for doctoral courses, 1 for the equivalent of the MA dissertation (100 pages), 3 for the PhD dissertation (around 500). That was too much, no doubt. The 2002 reform reduced the ‘Licenciatura’ to 4 years and the doctoral courses to 1, so that the total amount of years to get a PhD went down to 9. Now it’s down to 8 years: 4 for the ‘Grado,’ 1 for the MA including the dissertation (35-50 pages) and 3 for the PhD dissertation (350). This, of course, includes learning English in our case to a level high enough for international conferences and publication.

It’s easy to see that time has been dramatically compressed at the MA level, which means in practice that in our UAB MA, Advanced English Studies: Literature and Culture, students have a maximum of 15 months to complete assignments for 8 different teachers and to write the dissertation. Yes, they may submit the dissertation in September rather than June, and yes, it’s short, but this hardly helps.

We start the process of tutoring the dissertations as soon as possible with a research seminar given by all members of staff between November-December leading to a proposal submitted after Christmas. There is a constant follow-up with intermediate submissions of work in progress. Yet, this cannot make up for a new problem that we didn’t have with the doctoral courses.

In the old system, students who enrolled in these courses aimed at completing a doctoral dissertation. Many gave up after writing the shorter dissertation, which was, anyway, twice as long as the current MA affair and researched over at least 1 year. Only students graduating with average Bs and As attempted the feat of getting a PhD. Now our public is different: they may just want the MA and never considered writing a PhD dissertation at all. The MA dissertation is hard enough for them but, then, ours is a research MA.

Why not filter the students and be more demanding, you may be wondering? Well, let’s be frank: we need as many students as possible to guarantee the survival of our MAs all over Catalonia, just in case Generalitat considers that they’re too expensive in terms of teaching resources. The result? Frustrated students and, at best, with a few honourable exceptions, half-baked pieces or nothing at all.

Delaying the submission of the MA dissertation to a second year means that students pay a staggering 900 euros for re-registration (600 plus a 40% surcharge). I’m beginning to believe universities are banking on this unlikelihood to complete the MA dissertation in time to get some extra money. Our suggestion that students may submit their work either in September or in February, counting as part of the same academic year, has been discounted with the excuse that our computers cannot do it.

Bureaucratic matters apart, the fact is that you in the same way you can’t hurry love, as the song claims, you can’t hurry learning (much less thinking, that undervalued activity). The production of good Literature dissertations takes time, as it takes plenty of reading and that is time-consuming. We have, of course, the additional problem that some ‘clever’ politician decided to implement first the introduction of the MAs and then that of the new BAs (the four-year ‘grados’). Also, that many of the most committed students are taking the new MA in teacher training for secondary schools which has been made compulsory for those who wish to teach in Generalitat schools. Thank you very much!!

If anyone knows of a fool-proof method to write excellent dissertations within a 15 month MA (in a foreign language, remember), do let me know…

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