Practical skills ‘damaged by polytechnic switch in the 90s’

The Telegraph is reporting that is claiming a new report suggests that traditional technical degrees have been “downgraded” by the conversion of dozens of former polytechnics into universities…

A rapid expansion in the number of new universities over the last two decades has created a “gravitational pull” towards three-year academic courses at the expense of developing practical skills, it was claimed.

The study, by the Association of Colleges, said higher education reforms had incentivised residential degrees in a narrow range of subjects even though it “may not be the most appropriate mode of study for many potential students”.

Researchers insisted local colleges should be given more powers to award their own qualifications – including advanced technical and vocational courses – to help address a crippling shortage of skilled engineers, scientists and technicians.

The conclusions come amid growing concerns that too many school leavers have been pushed into three-year degrees instead of considering alternatives such as advanced college courses and on-the-job training.

Last year, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said a sharp rise in the number of jobs that require a degree as a minimum entry requirement has led to “qualification inflation”. He insisted degrees were “superfluous” to many careers such as nursing and accountancy.

The number of school leavers going on university has boomed in the last 25 years, fuelled by the creation of dozens of new universities.

The Conservatives granted more than 30 polytechnics full university status in 1992, while around 40 other former colleges and specialist institutions have also been given the title.

But the AoC said it had created a higher education system “dominated by full-time three-year residential degrees leaving part-time and higher technical and vocational education less prominent and supported”.

The report added: “The changes have downgraded higher technical and vocational education and damaged local progression routes. More recently, there has been a catastrophic decline in part-time provision in universities in particularly.

“This artificial divide has arguably compounded England’s weaknesses in educating and training people for intermediate and advanced level technical skills. [Higher education] qualifications are arguably not fit for purpose.”

Research has shown that three in 10 working adults would consider applying to university in the future but want to be able to study practical and vocational subjects close to where they live in the evenings, weekends or part time, the study said…

More at: Practical skills ‘damaged by polytechnic switch in the 90s’

Do you agree with the sentiment that converting polytechnics to universities in the 90s might not have been such a great idea after all? What would you do now to encourage more technical and vocational based higher education? Please do let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. SallyHoward3

    Yes it is a shame we have lost sight of the importance of different routes into a successful life. Universities are no longer places to ‘read’ a degree and engage at a deep level of cognition and the muddle has down graded many university degrees. Apprenticeships were amazing opportunities for job based education and needed to be underwritten so it was worthwhile for employers to take on the responsibility. Polytechnics were wonderful ways into life long learning and training routes. Who in their right mind thought a ‘one fit all’ approach would ever be sensible!?
    I’m not harping back through rose tinted glasses. I am looking forward and suggesting a rethink about core principles and then decide on best practice. This requires creative thinking and energy from top down and bottom up.

  2. ColinSeabrook

    SchoolsImprove The problem with the change was the Poly’s tried to hide their history of solid technical teaching for snobbery purposes

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