Okay, first of all, I know the Discworld novels are mostly (or at least largely) satire, a parody of modern society. But looking at it as a fantasy world, as a self-contained setting, this is what I have gathered about a wizard’s education…
1.-It seems many wizards, and certainly the most noteworthy powerful and successful wizards in the novels come from the Ramtops, which, as we know, aren’t what you would call a center of culture and learning… Archchancellor Galder Weatherwax was a distant cousin of Granny Weatherwax, Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully, was her ex-boyfriend, Archchancellor Cutangle comes from the village next to Bad Ass…etc.
I guess most of these wizards were eighth sons of eighth sons, and either their parents knew that they would be wizards, or they learned of it from an old wizard arrived to gift them their staff (like Eskerina did).
Taking into account the quality of education in the Ramtops, the parents of those children probably tried to have them learn basic reading and writing, and shipped them to the U.U. as soon as possible.
Of course, not all wizards would be like that; some would come from more developed regions, from rich families, and would receive a good education, private tutoring and magic books from a young age… put the point is, most wizards aren’t like that…
It is mentioned in Equal Rights that… “for most boys the more typical method was to be sponsored by a senior and respected wizard, after a suitable period of apprenticeship.
Competition was stiff for a University place and the honour and privileges an Unseen degree could bring. Many of the boys milling around the hall, and launching minor spells at each other, would fail and have to spend their lives as lowly magicians, mere magical technologists with defiant beards and leather patches on their elbows who congregated in small jealous groups at parties.”
Which drives us to the next point:
2.-Most “senior and respected wizards” hate teaching and barely teach at all… They spend their time eating, sleeping and killing each other. Many (maybe most) of the lectures are in Room 3d and Room 5b (which means that nobody gives them and nobody receives them…).
None of the known members of the faculty ever teaches anything, save Dr John Hicks (who probably does it because he doesn’t get along with the rest of the faculty).
It is mentioned (in http://discworld.wikia.com/wiki/Unseen_University) that “any alumnus from Unseen University is generally free to find an unoccupied study (which are in practically infinite supply), take or possibly invent a title and receive board and lodgings but little or no pay. If he is unlucky, he may then attract students, though this has been stated on at least one occasion to be an unfortunate and largely unwelcome development.”
So, who are those “senior and respected wizards” who train children until they are ready for the U.U.? Are they maybe freelance wizards who live outside of the U.U. and give private classes? If so, how could they be considered “senior and respected”, taking into account the mindset of the U.U.’s wizards? (it doesn’t matter how good you are at magic or how much you know, it only matters your position in the U.U.’s hierarchy…).
Maybe the lowest (and youngest) rungs of the wizardly hierarchy, those graduates who seize possession of a study and get a position as readers or lecturers give private classes to get some cash (it is mentioned that most wizards aren’t paid, they receive just lodgings and food). It would in the interest of the top faculty to consider those graduates “senior and respected wizards” if they take upon themselves the work of training future students…
But what about children from poor families? Who teaches them? I have a hard time thinking of any wizard in the novels taking a child as apprentice and training him for free… Maybe those kids teach themselves basic spellcasting with the help of old books and then get a member of the faculty to sponsor them as an “apprentice”?.
3.-And again, once they are admitted, who teaches them? The more experienced wizards don’t teach at all. Many lectures are purely virtual, The lowest ranks of the faculty may be forced to teach if some students ask them to… but they would have to do that for free, as opposed to give private classes… they would be inexperienced, unmotivated teachers, and since they often are just graduates who seized a study, barely more knowledgeable that their pupils… what is more, it is in their best interest to drive pupils away, since that would mean the wouldn’t have to work for free, and they wouldn’t be punished for that (the top faculty probably doesn’t know they exist, anyways…).
I guess there may be some Ponder Stibbons-like teacher around who is to real education what Ponder is to serious research, a man who takes upon his shoulders alone doing all the work of the whole faculty and teaches all the pupils in the U.U… Taking into account that the sum of all wizards in the U.U. during Ridcully’s tenure as Archchancellor is somewhere between 500 and 1000, and that it includes all alumni from fresh graduates to the most ancient professors, I don’t think there can be many new students per year, even taking into account the murders at the top of the hierarchy… A single man would be able to teach them all, easily…
According to http://discworld.wikia.com/wiki/Unseen_University, “after learning the basics of spellcasting, UU students are challenged to continue their research in the Library… There the students will encounter the Librarian (transformed into an orangutan by a magical mishap) and seek out the grimoires binding the more formidable spells.” A good hint that for the most part, wizards are self-taught.
Not that most pupils seem to study much on their own, either… It is mentioned that the Dean of Pentacles was one of the few students of his generation who studied during the evenings rather than going out to drink at the taverns…
4.-Moving Pictures seems to imply that pupils get their bachelor degree by passing a written exam, hence, showing a purely theoretical knowledge of magic… Victor Tugelbend had an excellent knowledge of magic theory, good enough that he could get exactly 84 in every exam on purpose (he needed more than 80 to keep his tuition, but he didn’t want to get 88 or more and pass the exam, since he wasn’t really interested in being a wizard, he just wanted to get the tuition money…) doesn’t seem have ever cast a spell.
The only example of a teacher giving practical classes is, again, Dr John Hicks (seriously, I’m starting to suspect he is the unsung hero who keeps the U.U. going on his own..).
If you take into account how the faculty’s wizards don’t do much magic (they mostly eat and sleep, and when they kill each other they use mundane tools), you start to suspect most wizards never do any magic and they maybe aren’t able to do any magic at all…
I guess older wizards learn at least to cast defensive spells to make sure they aren’t killed using magic (by canon, all wizards are shielded against most magic to avoid assassinations by fellow faculty members), and some of the younger, most idealistic wizards (like Ponder’s crew) learn to use magic for real for the sake of their own thirst of knowledge and for their research (of for the sake of pursuing power, until they realize they can’t kill older wizards with magic…)
5.-Older wizards seem to get a ton of titles (Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully, for example, is Mustrum Ridcully is D.Thau., D.M., D.S., D.Mn., D.G., D.D., D.C.L., D.M. Phil., D.M.S., D.C.M., D.W., B.El.L., and he left the U.U. when he was 27 years old!) how do they get them? Nobody teaches pupils beyond basic spellcasting… are there tests to get those titles? Or are they just given as a wizard gets older and advances in his Order’s hierarchy through murder?
In Ridcully’s case… was he just given the titles when he was made Archchancellor? Did he study on his own and travel to Ankh-Morpork now and them to do the exams? Did he get all those titles before he was 27?