Supervision teaching is unique to Cambridge and Oxford and is the key difference between studying as an undergraduate at Cambridge and any other university except Oxford.  It brings together students in groups of 1 – 3 with a supervisor who is a specialist in the field being discussed.  Supervisions are designed to not only improve students’ detailed knowledge of subjects on which they are also lectured, but to develop and hone their skills of enquiry, investigation, argument and presentation, both orally and in writing.  Typically, students will be supervised in each paper for their course weekly or fortnightly in term-time and usually have to prepare an essay or exercise for each supervision in addition to reading around the paper’s subject.

Supervision teaching is overseen for each subject in College by a Director of Studies (DoS), who is usually a Fellow of the College , though may sometimes exceptionally be an ‘external DoS’, usually on a temporary basis when a Fellow has moved away not yet been replaced.  The DoS will ensure that Robinson students in a particular subject have access to supervision teaching for their chosen papers and will review reports from the supervisors as to the students’ progress.  The administration and costs of providing supervisions are the responsibility of the student’s college, whilst central lectures, laboratory time etc. are the responsibility of the central University.  At Robinson it costs us an average of £6,500 per annum to educate each of our undergraduates, yet we receive £4,500 per head in student fees. 

College teaching for supervisions may be provided either by University Teaching Officers (UTO) or by College Teaching Officers (CTO).  For the College, UTOs provided a much more cost effective means of offering this defining aspect of a Cambridge and Robinson education.  UTOs hold their main employment with the central University of Cambridge and are then paid an additional rate for College teaching depending upon the numbers of students and hours that they teach and whether or not they also act as DoS for a particular subject.

However, it is the case in many subjects, particularly the Arts and Humanities where funding is most pressed, that there are insufficient University postholders for each College to have a UTO as a Fellow in every subject.  In these cases, colleges directly employ CTOs.  This means that the College bears the full cost of employment, which with salary, on-costs, provision of office space etc is typically £60,000 per annum. There are advantages and disadvantages to the College in both teaching options. CTOs are much more expensive to the College because they are directly employed; on the other hand in many cases they have more time available to take on additional College work. In theory a CTO has more time available to become DoS for a subject at Robinson than have UTO colleagues, who also have to undertake work in a University Faculty or Department.  In practice both UTOs and CTOs are under pressure to produce research papers and books in order to advance their career, particularly if CTOs wish to secure university rather than college posts, either at the University of Cambridge, or elsewhere.

The College Teaching Fund is a fund to which donors may contribute in order to support the appointment and retention of excellent College Teaching Officers in a range of subjects. The need for CTOs in particular subjects changes over time, but our current priorities are Economics, Music, Law, English, Modern Languages, Mathematics and Human, Social and Political Science.

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