Monday, 2 March 2015
Is Much Of Higher Education Redundant?
In my teens the structure of university and other post school forms of education and training were essentially based on the thinking and the experience of the period 1918 to 1939 between the wars. WW2 moved things along and 1940's legislation made changes for improvement but it was still conditioned by that period.
When our young ones were going through in the 70's and 80's the changes under way reflected the thinking of the 50's and into the 60's about the idea of education, its purpose and the economic structures that existed then. But the economy was then undergoing major changes.
By the time the politicians of the late 1990's, under Labour and into the beginning of the 21st Century came to hold power their ideas, beliefs and thinking had been the result of the turmoil of that 70's and 80's period and the disconnections involved.
More was that the various elements in education, which had been strong and influential before then had become major vested interests with their own agenda's and far more aggressive in both promoting them and demanding that government should follow them rather than the other way round.
We are now told, for example, in the debate about tuition fees in universities and the related issues over student debt, that the existing higher education should be protected because of its economic importance. Other parts of education are subject to endless meddling and reorganisation, notably in the key area of job training in basic occupations.
However, some of higher education is work related, in medicine and engineering, science and such like requiring related provision and teaching. But a good deal of it does not need what might be called the "hardware" but other sources of information and study.
When looking back through history what is striking is the abilities and work potential of many teenagers and how far they were an integral and needed part of the work forces in many spheres. Now a high proportion of the 16-21 age groups have been taken out and large numbers are appointed to deal with them.
This certainly impacts on the employment and unemployment figures. Also money movement adds to the figures without much in the way of visible production. At the same time as so many are removed from home we have large tracts of housing taken up by students, very many leaving behind empty bedrooms. Has nobody connected this element of the alleged housing shortage to the mass education of the 18+ group?
A new development is the provision of learning in "Moodles", see Wikipedia taking advantage of recent advances in communication technology. This has been taken up by many of the existing providers as a field of expansion. But in many areas of study it is little realised it could replace the old systems.
As for those sectors of education where a great deal need major facilities for practical forms of study or work many of those at present are funded by outside interests. A good deal of scientific research is bought by commercial companies in terms of grants and contracts. This could be taken a lot further and these areas of study taken back into working life and to the companies and others who are doing funding.
There will be scope for some existing universities and colleges to offer a limited range of study on the present and old basis but now for large areas of study and gaining qualifications increasingly vast sectors could move on to study and above all real work on a much more intensive basis by other means.
This could almost bring to an end the present morass of financing of both the institutions and the students. The debate about student loans and debt is not just about the small change, it is about the much larger question of the radical changes in structure and function in post 16 education and training.
At the other end of the age scale, I find it remarkable that the hi-tech gear and information systems out there enable me to do far more in far less time than ever before.
If the government does want to spend money it could do so by opening up all the scientific and academic journals to free use instead of the sometimes steep subscriptions now being charged and digitising library content.
Imagine, the British Library and National Archive free and open for use online.