Further and higher education




«P

reparation for adult life» includes training in the skills required for a job. These skills can be pitched at different levels - highly job-specific and not requiring much thought in their application, or «generalisable» and applicable to different kinds of employment.

Vocational courses are concerned with the teaching of job-related skills, whether specific or generalisable. They can be based in industry, and «open learning» techniques make this increasingly likely, although in the past, they have normally been taught in colleges of further education, with students given day release from work. Vocational training has not been an activity for schools. But some critics think that schools should provide it for non-academic pupils. One major initiative back in 1982, was the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) in which schools received money if they were able to build into the curriculum vocationally-related content ant activities - more technology, business studies, industry related work and visits, etc. But all this got lost in 1988 with the imposition of a National Curriculum was reformed, providing opportunities for vocational studies to be introduced at 14.

But the real changes in vocational training were to be seen outside the schools. The curriculum in colleges of further education has been closely determined by vocational examination bodies which decide what the student should be able to do in order to receive a qualification as, for example, a plumber or a hairdresser. These qualifications were pitched at different levels - from relatively low-skilled operative to higher-skilled craft and technician. Obtaining these qualifications often required an apprenticeship, with day release in a college of further education for more theoretical study.

Vocational training always has had a relatively low status in Britain. The «practical» and the «vocational» have seldom given access to university or to the prestigious and professional jobs.

Further education has traditionally been characterised by part-time vocational courses for those who leave school at the age of 16 but need to acquire a skill, be that in the manual, technical or clerical field. In all, about three million students enrol each year in part-time courses at further education (FE) colleges, some released by their employers and a greater number unemployed. In addition there have always been a much smaller proportion in full-time training. In 1985 this figure was a meagre 400,000, but by 1995 this had doubled. Given Labour's emphasis on improving the skills level of all school-leavers, this expansion will continue. Vocational training, most of which is conducted at the country's 550 further education colleges is bound to be an important component.

Higher education has also undergone a massive expansion. In 1985 only 573,000, 16 per cent of young people, were enrolled in full-time higher education. Ten years later the number was 1,150,000, no less than 30 per cent of their age group.

This massive expansion was achieved by greatly enlarging access to undergraduate courses, but also by authorising the old polytechnics to grant their own degree awards, and also to rename themselves as universities. Thus there are today 90 universities, compared with 47 in 1990, and only seventeen in 1945. They fall into five broad categories: the medieval English foundations, the medieval Scottish ones, the nineteenth-century 'redbrick' ones, the twentieth-century 'plate-glass' ones, and finally the previous polytechnics. They are all private institutions, receiving direct grants from central government.

Oxford and Cambridge, founded in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries respectively, are easily the most famous of Britain's universities. Today 'Oxbridge', as the two together are known, educate less than one-twentieth of Britain's total university student population. But they continue to attract many of the best brains and to mesmerise an even greater number, partly on account of their prestige, but also on account of the seductive beauty of many of their buildings and surroundings.

Both universities grew gradually, as federations of independent colleges, most of which were founded in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In both universities, however, new colleges are periodically established, for example Green College, Oxford (1979) and Robinson College, Cambridge (1977).

In the nineteenth century more universities were established to respond to the greatly increased demand for educated people as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the expansion of Britain's overseas empire. Many of these were sited in the industrial centres, for example Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle, Liverpool and Bristol.

With the expansion of higher education in the 1960s 'plate-glass' universities were established, some named after counties or regions rather than old cities, for example Sussex, Kent, East Anglia and Strathclyde. Over 50 polytechnics and similar higher education institutes acquired university status in 1992. There is also a highly successful Open University, which provides every person in Britain with the opportunity to study for a degree, without leaving their home. It is particularly designed for adults who missed the opportunity for higher education earlier in life. It conducts learning through correspondence, radio and television, and also through local study centres.

University examinations are for Bachelor of Arts, or of Science (BA or BSc) on completion of the undergraduate course, and Master of Arts or of Science (MA or MSc) on completion of postgraduate work, usually a one- or two-year course involving some original research. Some students continue to complete a three-year perio of original research for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). The bachelor degree is normal classed, with about 5 per cent normally gaining First, about 30 per cent gaining an Upper Seconi or 2.1, perhaps 40 per cent gaining a Lower Second, or 2.2, and the balance getting either i Third, a Pass or failing. Approximately 15 per cei fail to complete their degree course.

In addition there are a large number of specialis higher education institutions in the realm of the performing and visual arts. For example, there a four leading conservatories: the Royal Academy Music, the Royal College of Music, Trinity College of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music.

There are a large number of art colleges, of whi the most famous is the Royal College of Art, where both Henry Moore and David Hockney once studied. Other colleges cater for dance, film-making and other specialist areas in arts.

In spite of the high fees, Britain's universities, Fl colleges and English language schools host a number of foreign students, in 1996 there were fewer than 158,000.

Female undergraduates have greatly increased proportionately in recent years. In the mid-1960 they were only 28 per cent of the intake, became 41 per cent by the early 1980s, and were 51 per cent by 1996. There is still an unfortunate separation of the sexes in fields of chosen study, arising from occupational tradition and social expectations. Caring for others is still a 'proper' career for women; building bridges, it seems, is not. Unless one believes women's brains are better geared to nursing and other forms of caring and men's to bridge-building, one must conclude that social expectations still hinder women and men from realising their potential. Students from poorer backgrounds are seriously underrepresented in higher education. Although more in social categories C, D and E are now enrolled, it is the more prosperous social categories A and B which have benefited most from university expansion. For Labour there are two issues here:

equality of opportunity, and maximising all of society's intellectual potential.

Ethnic minorities' representation is growing: 1 3 per cent in 1996 compared with only 10.7 per cent in 1990. It is noteworthy that their university representation exceeds their proportion within the whole population, a measure of their commitment to higher education.

In 1988 a new funding body, the University Funding Council, was established, with power to require universities to produce a certain number of qualified people in specific fields. It is under the UFC's watchful eye that the universities have been forced to double their student intake, and each university department is assessed on its performance and quality. The fear, of course, is that the greatly increased quantity of students that universities must now take might lead to a loss of academic quality.

Expansion has led to a growing funding gap. Universities have been forced to seek sponsorship from the commercial world, wealthy patrons and also from their alumni. The Conservative Party also decided to reduce maintenance grants but to offer students loans in order to finance their studies. However, the funding gap has continued to grow and Labour shocked many who had voted for it by introducing tuition fees at 1,000 pounds per annum in 1998. Although poorer students were to be exempted it was feared that, even with student loans, up to 10 per cent of those planning to go to university would abandon the idea. One effect of the financial burden is that more students are living at home while continuing their studies: about 50 per cent at the ex-polytechnics, but only 15 per cent at the older universities.

Today many university science and technology departments, for example at Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Imperial College London, and Strathclyde, are among the best in Europe. The concern is whether they will continue to be so in the future. Academics' pay has fallen so far behinc other professions and behind academic salaries elsewhere, that many of the best brains have gon< abroad. Adequate pay and sufficient research funding to keep the best in Britain remains a majo challenge.

As with the schools system, so also with higher education: there is a real problem about the exclusivity of Britain's two oldest universities. While Oxbridge is no longer the preserve of a social elite it retains its exclusive, narrow and spell-binding culture. Together with the public school system, it creates a narrow social and intellectual channel from which the nation's leaders are almost exclusively drawn. In 1996 few people were in top jobs in the Civil Service, the armed forces, the law or finance, who had not been either to a public school or Oxbridge, or to both.

The problem is not the quality of education offered either in the independent schools or Oxbridge. The problem is cultural. Can the products of such exclusive establishments remain closely in touch with the remaining 95 per cent of the population? If the expectation is that Oxbridge, particularly, will continue to dominate the controlling positions in the state and economy, is the country ignoring equal talent which does not have the Oxbridge label? As with the specialisation at the age of 16 for A levels, the danger is that Britain's governing elite is too narrow, both in the kind of education and where it was acquired. It is just possible that the new Labour government, which itself reflects a much wider field of life experience in Britain, will mark the beginning of significantly fuller popular participation in the controlling institutions of state.

Present situation

The educational system - its organization, its control, its content - is changing rapidly to meet the perceived needs of the country - the need to improve standards and to respond to a rapidly changing and competitive economy. Those changes might be summarized in the following way.

First, there is much greater central control over what is taught. Second, what is taught is seen in rather traditional terms - organized in terms of subjects rather than in response to the learning needs of the pupils. Third, however, there is an attempt to be responsive to the economic needs of the country, with an emphasis upon vocational studies and training. Fourth, there is a rapid expansion of those who stay in education beyond the compulsory age, making use of the «three-track system» of «A» Level, GNVQ (General National Vocational Qualifications) and NVQ (National Vocational Qualifications). Fifth, although the content of education is centrally controlled, its «delivery» pays homage to the «market» by encouraging choice between different institutions so that funding follows popular choice (i.e. the more popular the school with parents, the more money it gets, thereby providing an incentive to schools and colleges to improve their performance.

 

Education under Labour

E

ducation was the central theme of the new Labour government. It promised a huge range of improvements: high-quality education for all four-year-olds whose parents wanted it and lower pupil-teacher ratios, in particular that children up to the age of eight children would never be in classes of over 30 pupils. It also declared that all children at primary school would spend one hour each day on reading and writing, and another hour each day on numeracy, the basic skills for all employment. When Labour took office only 57 per cent of children reached national literacy targets by the time they left primary school, and only 55 per cent reached similar targets in maths. The government pledged to raise these proportions to 80 per cent and 75 per cent respectively. It also established a new central authority responsible for both qualifications and the curriculum, to ensure that these were, in the government's own words, 'high quality, coherent and flexible'. It warned that it intended to evolve a single certificate to replace A levels and vocational qualifications, and possibly to reflect a broad range of study rather than the narrow specialism of the A-level system. Because 30 per cent of students who started A-level courses failed to acquire one, it also wanted to create a more flexible system that would allow students still to attain recognised standards of education and training on the road to A levels. However, unlike France or Germany, an increasing proportion of those taking exams at this standard were actually passing.

The government also promised to improve the quality of the teaching staff, with a mandatory qualification for all newly appointed heads of schools, to improve teacher training, to establish a General Teaching Council, which would restore teacher morale and raise standards, and to introduce more effective means of removing inefficient teachers. It also promised to look at the growing problem of boys underachieving at school compared with girls. Finally, Labour asked for its record to be judged at the end of its first term in office, in 2002.

 

Questions

1. When do the british start their education?

2. Do you agree that the british education has problems?

3. What were the lacks of British education?

4. Who can study in public schools?

5. Does the word «public» reflect the real principle of that schools?

6. What political acts became a turning point in British education?

7. What is the most well-spread opinion about the vocational courses?

8. What do you think about the quality of higher education in Britain?

9. What are the main principles of the Labour Patry (concerning education)

10. How had the role of parents in the children’s education changed?

11. How did the changing economic and social situation influence the system of education?

12. What are the most prestigeous schools in Britain?

13. Are there students from other countries in British schools and universities?

14. Is the nursary school compulsory?

15. How do you think: do the Concervative principles of education differ from that of Labour?

16. What are the aims of education in Britain today?

17. Did the level of education become higher after the reforms?

18. What is the GCSE?

19. What types of schools does the british system of education includes?

20. Would you like to study in Britain? (Give your argument for or against it).

...





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