Friday, 28 September 2012

More Education.

I could not agree more, however, my replies are frequently too long to be posted as such.

The problems with the English system in my, reasonable well researched, view, go back to the inter-war period, possibly to the late Victorian period in some cases when the first “Civic” universities were established.   Having studied at two, Manchester and Birmingham, there is a unique and “English” feel to the overall environment and it is based in single-discipline undergraduate courses. There are more chemistry graduates than there are chemists, more economics graduates than bankers, but the solid first class honours from a good civic or red-brick university is highly regarded even though it rarely fits the student for a world of work.

Let us wind the clock back further. The two great English universities, normally termed in academic circles “Oxbridge” were set up in a collegiate form by generous donors in the first instance to produce clerics. This then spread to lawyers, then to medics, teaching came as a side-line and sadly remains so to this day. The common theme here is that all of the above are vocations, the Oxbridge colleges therefore provided vocational education, specifically related to the profession and providing only the academic part of the vocational training, the cleric would move into a pupil role with a senior cleric, the lawyer into a pupilage with a barrister, the medic into a junior doctor or houseman role and so on.

Let us now wind the clock forward; if in 1992, the “new universities” had been granted their degree awarding powers based upon a vocational “fit for employment” basis, then many of the modern degree titles would not exist, some would and catering or media studies might well be amongst them, but I suspect they would be much more integrated with industry and commerce than the current programmes. The problem that I see is that all English universities try to be all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:22) providing similar products differentiated only by institutional reputation.

Let us think how Lady Thatcher thought in 1972 when today was the distant future (BSC, 2nd class honours, Somerville College, Oxford, thesis focusing on X-ray crystallography. As I said, more chemistry graduates than chemists!) The Oxbridge Colleges and those research intensive upper tier universities known collectively as the Russell Group, should be allowed to fund their research largely from industry as the Monk suggested happens in Germany; it does happen here, but to a lesser extent, mostly because the colleges will not do what the sponsor wants, but try to shape the need to their own environment.   This will probably lead to the situation where most of these colleges would have relatively small undergraduate intakes and be largely what the US would call “Graduate School”. So not a lot of change there, just a change of focus and a demonstration of climbing down from dreaming spires and connecting with the modern world of business.

What of the “New Universities”? Not so new now, rather like the British “New Penny”, perhaps then to focus, as originally intended, on vocational, work-related programmes in tandem with industry to produce employable graduates. I can see the catering degree in that mix, but not “David Beckham Studies” I can see “Leisure Management” but not equating to a green-keeper's apprenticeship, although it could be a route for a former apprentice to upgrade and up-skill. It does not take much imagination to see that these universities would also have a range of below degree programmes, the HNC / HND, originally designed for apprentices, Foundation Degrees, which have a great deal to offer if designed correctly, ( see “Foundation Degree Forwards” Issue 8, pp22ff Sadly, like a lot of things, it was disbanded last year.) and similar bridges from work to education for adult student as well as the keen but less academic school-leaver.

This leaves us with the middle ground, those civic and red-brick universities and their single discipline honours degree programmes. Are they not the very institutions under threat if tertiary education is closely related to the world of work? Perhaps food for though before the next set of government decisions to change education for their political purposes.

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