Monday, 3 January 2011

An Alternative Higher Education System

I was reading a blog the other day when I stumbled across this brilliant post by Hannah Nicklin. It very neatly summed up the kind of thing I'd like to see our education system become but had been unable to put into words. I suggest you go and read the whole thing but here's an extract:

If you believe uni should be for the most able (one hopes a reasonable assumption), then money should be taken out of the equation all together. Anything else privileges the better off, paying it back afterwards or via tax can sound as reasonable as you like but applying a monetary value to it makes it an issue of value not worth – there is also real ignorance in the assumption that debt means the same to a typical middle-class household (how you own your house, your car, Christmas) as it does to a typical working class one (something you don’t deserve, have access to, or given to you on terms that mean you will never be able to own a house, a car, the kind of debt that in paying for Christmas ruins the rest of the year) . 
So you take personal or parental income out of the equation all together and produce grant-funded university places for the top 20-25% (of those that want them) academic achievers from every school (this neatly avoids problems with ability vs. attainment that comes with private and rural vs inner city schools). 
Then training courses formed as modern apprenticeships are introduced to be worth the same as degrees for things like engineering, management, tech; the kind of course which now emphasise a year-in-industry as the most useful thing in actually getting a job. 
And what is now the FE system turns to technical degrees – cheffing, plumbing, mechanics, hair and beauty, website design, green tech, that kind of thing. 
This would bring us to an introduction of a practical degree (PD), technical degree (TD) and academy degree (AD) all worth the same, but realistically reflecting the different aspects of the contemporary jobs market, andacademic intentions. 
The government subsidises ADs, Businesses subsidise TDs, and a mix of both gives money to PDs. 
Selecting from ability, rather than attainment or ability to pay would hopefully see that this doesn’t become about class or proximity to wealth, but rather about what you are able and want to do. Also, just imagine what this would do to the quality of secondary schools – all those upper middle class parents moving to disadvantaged areas to get their tutored kids into struggling schools – could it bring down the economic segregation of our school system? 
Making all types of study/training of equal worth would mean someone who wanted to be an applied artist would go and get a TD, one who wanted to study art history an AD or someone who wanted to be an interior designer a PD. Or those who wanted to opt out would be able to do that too. This would need to be backed up by a system more like a baccalaureate – a universal  taster secondary education which can allow you to take a much broader range of skills and subjects, and wasn’t towards attainment in grades, but an overall accomplishment built of the areas you find interest or ability, as well as a revision of physical, political and social education.
Well said.

1 comment:

  1. Surely if you take only the top 25% of a school for university places then you have a possible paradoxical situation in high achievers limited by the relative strength of their school. A student who may have worked extremely hard to gain a place at a selective and high-achieving school might be better off going to a school where they would have received a less challenging education because they would be more likely to be in this top 25% to get a university place, whereas in the higher achieving school they would not be ranked high enough. This also takes away the aspect of choice. Someone can pick under this scheme to forgo an academic university place for a more vocational degree but cannot do the opposite, i.e. choose to take an academic degree if they are ranked too low on this frankly arbitrary scheme. When Hannah Nicklin says "this neatly avoids problems with ability vs. attainment that comes with private and rural vs inner city schools" I think the neatness she talks of comes at the expense of choice. While, I wholeheartedly agree that there should be a greater selection of vocational courses available, the selection should always be the students, not down to a process even more abritrary than the admittedly flawed A level based admission system.


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