Jan 15, 2022Liked by prof serious

Really interesting ideas here and in the comments. To some extent we are already starting to see these issues addressed in some arts universities. At the University for the Creative Arts, (which specialises in arts, creative business, technologies and communication) many of our undergraduate degrees will soon have a 4th 'professional practice' year, which will require students to spend their last year of study in industry applying their theoretical/technical skills and gaining valuable work experience. This is quite exciting, and could make entry into highly technical/practice based industries (such as architecture, fashion, design, film/tv, media, gaming, communications) all the more accessible.

Expand full comment
Jan 14, 2022Liked by prof serious

Exactly our experience with drivers and many others. Orchestrated attacks on university education do not have the support in the country sometimes claimed.

Also agree about the pivotal importance of Masters' degrees, having organised and run them for thirty years before retiring ten years ago. While they have become of greater structural importance for the reasons you state, the cost has spiralled, creating an individual, social and economic bottleneck.

Tim Putnam

sometime Prof of Material Culture

Middlesex and Portsmouth

Expand full comment
Jan 14, 2022Liked by prof serious

This is so true. I always have exactly the same conversations with Taxi drivers (and Uber drivers to be fair) and many tell me with much pride that their children are at university, often at the cost of much personal sacrifice from the parents. A Masters would be regarded as incomprehensible and unaffordable l.

Expand full comment
Jan 14, 2022·edited Jan 14, 2022Liked by prof serious

Is there not a strong argument for 4- rather than 3-year degrees? Obviously the cost would be greater, not just in terms of fees for students and associated expenses for institutions, but also living costs and so on. But this is the model in Scotland and many other countries, but it would be a worthwhile government investment (I'm very aware that there has been a lot of talk from politicians about going to the other extreme and introducing 2-year degrees). Having the first year spread over two years, as in Scotland, would make building the foundations more practical for those whose background from secondary education has been patchy.

Ian Somerville says 'Whilst there is definitely a need in science and engineering to impart a certain degree of knowledge about the discipline as well as skills such as critical thinking, I'm not convinced the same is true for most degrees in the Arts and Humanities.' The extent to which this is true in practice in some arts and humanities degrees may vary, but traditionally many have indeed required such a thing - in the case of arts degrees, core technical knowledge about the art form, some overview of its history, some practical knowledge in the case of practice-based arts, and most definitely critical thinking (and often much else). And there are various parallels in non-arts humanities. If these are sometimes downplayed, I think one should be aiming to build them up again.

Expand full comment

Your implicit message here seems to be that universities in England and Wales should follow Scotland's example and require 4 years of study for an undergraduate degree.

I completely agree with this although we have to be careful not to be too utilitarian about university education. Whilst there is definitely a need in science and engineering to impart a certain degree of knowledge about the discipline as well as skills such as critical thinking, I'm not convinced the same is true for most degrees in the Arts and Humanities.

To my mind, the greatest failing of the universities in terms of access is their abandonment of 'conversion' courses that allow people to retrain as their views on their career change. Part-time courses are particularly important so that students can fund their studies through work.

I believe this is a particular problem for women who are often subjected to peer pressure at school to avoid science and engineering because they aren't 'cool'. Later, when they are more confident, they may wish to retrain and find that there are no real options to do so. My daughter fell into that category and only managed to change to a tech-based career because she got free personal computing tuition and found an enlightened employer who didn't demand a formal qualification.

Expand full comment

Agree with most of what is said here. University is getting squished at both ends of the academic spectrum as the leading choice for young people. At the lower end, the acquired skills aren't matching up to higher workplace demands (eg software jobs requiring programming) and people are better off turning towards vocations and apprenticeships. At the upper end, the opportunity cost (time and money) is significant and people are paving their own paths through entrepreneurship and content creation, or investigating alternative means to educate such as online courses.

Where I don't agree is that more education (like a masters) is the right answer. I wrote about this more on my own site if anybody is interested.

Expand full comment

You seem to suggest that the school curriculum - both at GCSE and degree level - have been degraded such that universities have lowered the standards of their initial BA/BSc courses and consequently have had to introduce MAs to compensate. Am I correct in this assumption? I remember the advent of Foundation courses at universities. Eg for engineering and science courses and computer studies because schools were not adequately preparing students.

Of course in Art and Design this had been the case for many years and was essential because A level art did NOT in any way prépare students for the demands of what became Art, Design and Media degree courses in especially the new universities but also the degree awarding FE colleges.

My son was shocked when he went to study History and Politics at Manchester University that the first year was simply a repeat of what he had done during his A levels - at a very good King Edwards School in Birmingham. I’m speaking 30 years ago.

My own personal experience, having married someone who went to Lancing and Cambridge, was that the books he read at public school were thé ones I read at University. He was upper middle class, I was lower middle class.

There’s a lot in there to explore in your talks with your taxi driver.

Expand full comment