How ready and engaged are students when they enter higher education? A Professor had this to say about students going to university:
“Speaking generally, during the last thirty years the schools of England have been sending up to the universities a disheartened crowd of young folk, inoculated against any outbreak of intellectual zeal.”
Do you think there’s some truth in this?
What if I told you the Professor, A. N. Whitehead, made this suggestion in the year 1932?
It’s easy to look to the past and believe much of the situation in higher education was different then. Of course, it WAS different. But as you imagine a time when going to university was nothing like as widespread and accessible as it is now, it’s hard to picture a lack of ‘intellectual zeal’ among such a small selective grouping.
Perhaps it was just the wrong selective grouping.
Whatever the case, I found the above quote in a book from 1962. Nearly 50 years ago. A different era…or so you would think.
The book, ‘Educating the Intelligent’ by Michael Hutchinson and Christopher Young, has a great chapter on university education. I came across much detail that holds relevance with the current situation for HE.
Take this example:
“It is now clear that we need a massive expansion in the numbers receiving university education in this country, coupled with a re-thinking of the content of university education itself.”
Expansion and widening participation have been a big part of HE over the years. Now, through decisions being made by the coalition government, we face further change to the content and layout of university education. How it will play out, nobody really knows. But it’s clear that 50 years after ‘Educating the Intelligent’ was published, we are still re-thinking the format. This re-thinking is necessary as the world and our needs change. But it’s just as much a hindrance as it is a help.
Other issues under discussion suggest we still haven’t found answers to certain problems. One such problem is that of making students ready for the workplace once they graduate. Should this be a core purpose or requirement of university education? Should it at least be on offer to those who want it? Another excerpt:
“The job which a child will start on today may have ceased to exist when he retires from work in the next century. The processes and machines with which he will be working at the time of his retirement may not yet have been put on the drawing-board…His training, and in particular his mental attitude to his work, will therefore need to be entirely different from the attitudes which still largely prevail today and which are based upon a previous industrial age when a man, trained in one mechanical skill, would spend a lifetime practising that one skill. ‘Clearly,’ as the Crowther Report says, ‘the first quality that is needed to cope with such a world is adaptability.'”
Many business leaders and graduates themselves still question abilities to cope with adapting. Times Higher Education recently reported on a wave of new degrees being created for business and enterprise. The idea is that universities help students achieve deeper critical and analytical understanding to complement specific skills. Professor Chris Kemp of Bucks New University explains:
“Most people who come from industry already have the practical skills but what they need is the theoretical skills. This is about education. This isn’t training, it’s an academic underpinning to the experiential learning they already have.”
So, we’re still re-thinking university education and we’re still working out adaptability and the link between education and the workplace. What else? Okay, one last thing.
Here’s what ‘Educating the Intelligent’ has to say about getting a place to study at a university without vast quantities of stress and complication:
“The concept of the sixth form will be ruined if the present anxiety about getting a place at the university is not allayed. If these boys and girls are to arrive at the university full of imaginative intellectual energy, sixth-form education must not take place in an atmosphere of worry and fear about the future.
“The only way to prevent such anxiety is to establish a fair standard of academic achievement and make it quite plain that on reaching this standard a sixth-former will have qualified for a university place. This is the maximum amount of worry that it is reasonable to impose on the sixth-former. In plain terms this means that a child of eighteen will know that, provided he reaches the necessary examination standard, he will be guaranteed a place in a university. His job will be to reach the required standard; it will be our job to arrange for his selection to a particular university.”
There is a very real problem with available places at university. Anxiety among prospective uni students has not disappeared, especially now. A surge in applications could lead to 200,000 people left without a place. With so few places set to be available through the clearing system, even students with high grades and ‘intellectual zeal’ could find no place available to them in the coming academic year.
Despite qualifying in terms of required grades, there will be no guarantee of a place at the end of the road. There are other options, but this will not take away the sting that some students receive in the next few weeks.
Higher education has changed so much that it is difficult to compare with university in the 1930s and 1960s. Even the 1980s and 1990s were a long time ago with the amount of change that has taken place.
Despite all the change, plenty of what was said decades ago can still be associated with.
Which makes you wonder…How much change does change really bring?