In an interesting (and, perhaps, controversial from some viewpoints) text Calling a spade a spade: Mathematics in the new pattern of division of labour, Alexandre Borovik describes changes in the mathematical education forced by changes in economy and technology.

At this moment, I do not want to discuss the essence of this text, but I am puzzled by one rather tangential remark. On p.18, when discussing an apparently emerging so-called "deep mathematical education", Borovik writes:

... in such a system, it could be desirable to have oral examinations in place of written ones. The reader familiar with the British university system, for example, can easily imagine all the political complications that would follow.

Being unfamiliar with the "British university system", I am wondering what these "political complications" might be.


British universities have complex systems of teaching quality assurance, mandated by the QAA (http://www.qaa.ac.uk/en). Exams are typically set by a lecturer, checked by a colleague in the same department, and then sent for at least brief review by an External Examiner who is a senior academic at another University. There are also policies about marking systems, procedures for reviewing the overall shape of results, and so on. Opinions vary about how useful all this is, but in practice every University has to comply. It would be difficult to construct a system of oral exams that could be shown to have the level of consistency that these systems aim to achieve.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer! $\endgroup$ – Pasha Zusmanovich Jan 26 '15 at 8:08

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