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Contradiction and Change in British Higher Education (реферат)


1. Introduction p.2

2. Contradiction and Change in British Higher Education p.3

3. Background to the Present Contradictions p.3

a. The 1960s- Decade of Expansion p.5

b. The 1970s-Change to restriction p.9


There are more than 60 universities in the U.K. The leading universities are Cambridge , Oxford and London. English universities differ from each other in traditions, general organization, internal government, etc. British universities are comparatively small, the approximate number is about 7-8 thousand students. Most universities have under 3000 students, some even less than 1500 ones. London and Oxford universities are international, because people from many parts of the world come to study at one of their colleges. A number of wellknown scientists and writers, among them Newton, Darvin, Byron were educated in Cambridge.

A university consists of a number of departments: art, law, music, economy, education, medicine, engineering, etc. After a three years of study a student may proceed to a Bachelor’s degree, and later to the degree of Master and Doctor. Besides universities there are at present in Britain 300 technical colleges, providing part-time and full-time education. The organization system of Oxford and Cambridge differs from that of all other universities and colleges. The teachers are usually called Dons. Part of the teaching is by means of lecture organized by the colleges. Each student goes to his tutor’s room once a week to read and discuss an essay which the student has prepared.

Some students get scholarship but the number of these students is comparatively small. There are many sociaties and clubs at Cambridge and Oxford. The most celebrating at Cambridge is the Debating Sociaty at which discuss political and other questions with famous politicians and writers. Sporting activities are also numerous.

The work and games, the traditions and customs, the jokes and debates-all are parts of students’ life there.

It should be mentioned that not many children from the working class families are able to receive the higher education as the fees are very high. Besides that special fees are taken for books, for laboratory works, exams and so on.

Contradiction and Change in British Higher Education

British Higher education covers a complex diversity of institutions, courses and qualifications. This is because its development has been full of contradiction, haphazard changes and half-measures. It can be best understood by considering the conflicting pressures of elitist traditions on the one hand and, on the other, the increasing popular demand for education and the need of the economy for properly qualified manpower.

Background to the Present Contradictions

Well into the 1950s, there was only one major route to academic studies: from public and grammar schools to university, for a small privileged group of young people.

One is struck by the contradiction between the restricted character of British higher education and the fact that it was in Britain that a high level of industrial advance was a first achieved.

In the first industrial revolution brilliant inventions were put into practice using relatively simple technology and large numbers of workers with a low level of training. This ensured high profits for a long period, and adaptation to the changing needs of advancing technology, which required a higher level of training, was low. Moreover, the rising business class in the late 18th century was primarily interested in the universities for their elitist traditions, these being seen as a help in acquiring a share in the established culture and ideological power of the aristocracy.

Up to the mid-19th century, higher education meant just the two universities of Oxford and Cambridge, four Scottish universities and finally the universities of Durham and London. The dominant features were those developed at Oxford and Cambridge, by which others were subsequently influenced.

Students lived and worked for the most part in the secluded atmosphere of the colleges and had close social contact with senior staff. In addition to lectures, every undergraduate attended tutorials, getting the utmost individual attention and assistance in his studies from his tutor. The effect was to strengthen the impact on students of the basic ideas and assumptions of the ruling class. Training in self-expression played a significant part, as did the emphasis on classics, the rigor of academic study in a specialised field, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and the striving for academic status. The young graduate went on to an academic career, or entered the profession or government service.

From the mid-19th century onwards, however, alongside this elitist pattern of studies, pressure grew for a broader provision of higher education. The sharpening competition with other industrialised countries from the mid-19th century onwards increased the need for trained technologists. Moreover, there was growing popular demand for higher education. New initiatives were clearly called for.

By the end of the 19th century a number of new colleges had been established in the big industrial cities, later to become the civic (or "redbrick”) universities (for example Birmingham and Manchester).

In the same period other institution developed outside the university sector, often starting as evening institutes for young workers. By the mid-20th century a number of these were to provide higher-level studies as well, including courses leading to academic degrees awarded externally by London University. This sector of technical colleges and other institutions, also called " further education”, had a strong vocational tradition that was to prove important for later developments. It remained inferior however to universities in material standards and social esteem.

Another growing section was teacher training. These colleges, many having a church background, also remained poor relations of the universities.

Altogether, until the mid-20th century, advance in higher education was slow, and the elitist traditions of the universities continued to dominate.

The 1960s- Decade of Expansion

The Labor government in office from 1964 to 1970 accepted the Robbins recommendation on student numbers. But the problems in trying to improve standards of higher education under imperialist conditions soon became apparent. The continuation of " world power” policies, involving massive military expenditure and export of capital, inevitably hindered the proper financing of the expansion undertaken.

In addition, there was obstinate resistance from reactionary groups, anxious to maintain the selective character of higher education. Claiming to be concerned about "academic standards”, they fought against broadening access to studies, particularly for the working-class, and resisted demands for more democracy in educational management. Their campaign reflected a basic contradiction in the position of the ruling class. On the one hand, a large, highly skilled work-force was needed, able to cope with the requirements of modern industry. On the other hand, the resulting growth of student numbers was feared as a potential challenge to ruling class privilege.

Thus, expansion and reform of higher education in the 1960s was inevitably restricted and inconsistent. The following outline of changes will show this.

Within the university sector, new institutions had been founded by the middle of the 1960s, for example the universities of Keele, Sussex and York. They introduced more broadly based courses, which provided an alternative to the narrow specialisation at other universities, although they otherwise tended to continue on established academic lines.

For the promotion of technological studies the institutions of further education had to step in. Ten of the most advanced technical colleges (such as Bradford and Salford) had already been selected for higher-level courses and were (in the mid-1960s) upgraded to technological universities. They broke new ground with work-oriented studies, but remained a group on their own, striving to achieve academic recognition, and failing to challenge sufficiently the outlook of the traditional universities.

Otherwise, it was mainly at postgraduate level and in research that universities partly adapted to modern industrial needs, responding to increasing pressure from the firms that provided much of the finance. There were new courses in science and technology, and management training was developed in a number of universities and at two special business schools.

However, despite these partial changes, the university sector generally stuck to its traditions, and the contradiction remained. What fitted universities for their role as educators of personnel for the ruling class made them unsuited to produce the mass of highly qualified manpower required for scientific technological advance.

The Labor government felt that a more decisive move was needed. In the late 1960s a number of colleges in the further education sector were turned into 30 new centers of higher education-the polytechnics. These were partly intended to make expansion possible at lower cost, and consequently suffered from inferior conditions and equipment as compared with universities. But they had a second aim, which was to establish more flexible and work-orientated studies than those normally found at universities.

Comprising the natural sciences and technology as well as the arts and social sciences, courses at polytechnics were set up in close association with a new national body for regulating degree courses in further education, the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA). Entry requirements for students were not, as at university, restricted to qualification normally gained at school- the General Certificate of Education at advanced level (GCE "A”)-, but also included vocational certificate and diplomas obtained at technical colleges. Apart from improving the manpower position for industry and commerce, this more flexible approach on the admission of students and the extension of part-time study broadened access for the working class.

Alongside degree work, polytechnics kept sub-degree courses for vocational qualifications. This widened the range of studies and also enabled students to transfer from one level to another within the same institution.

Such were the prospects of the polytechnics, which progressive leaders of the trade union concerned sought to exploit. Other stuff, however, wanted development on the lines of traditional universities. This and material restrictions hampered advance, but in no way reduced the significance of the new directions in higher education that polytechnics represented.

A special project of the Labor government was the Open University (study by television, radio and correspondence), mainly for people who had missed out of higher education in their younger years. Its first students enrolled in 1971. Courses were to take four or five years, beginning with a broad introduction followed by a flexible combination of specialised studies. Its activity, including the production of course materials, also had an impact on the wider population. Furthermore, it did not demand formal entry qualifications but accepted all applicants capable of study.

The Open University represented an important advance. However, it should not be overlooked that most of its first entrants were "middle-class”, a reflection of the fact that many working-class school leavers lacked the educational basis for further study. Quite apart from this, the cost of study exceeded the financial means of many workers.

Looking back at the development of higher education in the 1960s, three issues stand out: the widening of access to study, new approaches to courses, and changes in the structure and organisation of higher education. Let us consider these in more detail:

1) In the course of the 1960s, the percentage of the age group gaining access to higher education more than doubled. In full-time studies the proportion reached about 15%, but, including part-time students, about every third school leaver or holder of an ordinary vocational qualification started some form of course in 1970-half of them for a degree.

And yet, though numbers increased, discrimination against the working class, and also against women, remained. The proportion of university entrants from the working class stayed virtually unchanged at the 25% prevailing since before the second world war. This represented less than 5% of working-class youth of that age group. The proportion of women students in higher education increased gradually to a third by 1970, but was unevenly distributed, most being in teacher training and very few in technological subject. All this showed the limits of the Labor government’s program: It was still mainly the "middle class” that gained from advances achieved in higher education.

2) The 1960s also saw some important new approaches to courses. Many university students still studied one or two highly specialised subjects for three or four years (in some subjects longer) to obtain a degree, mainly the Bachelor of Art (BA) or of Sciences (BSc). Most degrees were awarded " with Honors”, while broader courses (two or three subjects leading to a "general” or "ordinary” degree) had a lower standing. A few students carried on with postgraduate studies, usually for the degree of Master or Doctor demanding a dissertation.

These university courses, though pro viding sound knowledge and general academic skills, fell short of requirements in a number of fields, especially for industry, and in some cases the new polytechnic degree courses came to be preferred.

Extending initiatives already seen in the technological universities, polytechnics offered courses with a broad base, often integrating subjects. Advances were made in combining theoretical knowledge with practical training, and "sandwich courses” (periods of study alternating with periods of work in industry or office) became especially popular. Moreover, high standards were guaranteed from the start by the fact that polytechnics had to submit detailed programs for every course to the CNAA. This council examined the syllabus, the teaching staff and the general conditions in each case, and often made rigorous demands before approving a course. This contrasted with the situation common at universities, where academic standards tended to vary and subjects were sometimes taught without binding syllabuses.

The new approach in polytechnics was accompanied by controversy. There was strong pressure from central and local government and employers, this being evident in the involvement of business interests in sandwich courses and in the demands put by the monopolies to the CNAA. At the same time, some success was achieved by the teachers’ union and student organisation in gaining staff and student representation on management bodies of polytechnics, and participation in course development.

At this point we should consider the question of ‘academic freedom’. This is a cherished ideal of university life, allowing opinions ranging from Marxist to reactionary all to be broadly tolerated within a pluralist framework. The concept is misleading, because it functions in the context of an all-pervasive bourgeois ideology, and because, by permitting each university academic to teach broadly as he wishes, it in practice evades the fighting out of ideas. In polytechnics, at the time they were established, conflicts between progressive ideas and traditional bourgeois thinking were brought out more into the open. New courses had to be worked out collectively and defended before the national body, the CNAA, and this produced syllabuses to which all teachers involved were committed.

What this achieved at polytechnics should not of course be exaggerated. There was both advance and compromise, an example of the latter being "European Studies” (combining the study of the literature, history and economy of several countries). Objectives here tended to be confused, and there was mostly a bias towards Western Europe.

3) The third problem in higher education standing out in the 1960s was its divided ("binary”) structure and administration: the relatively privileged universities on the one hand and the less favored "public sector” institutions, with polytechnics in the lead, on the other.

The universities defended their so-called "autonomy”, that is, independence from outside control. In practice this concept had lost its real basis: universities were already financed mainly from state funds, these being distributed by a mediating body, the University Grants Committee (UGC), including representatives of both government and universities. This allowed for increasing control from outside. Nevertheless, the universities, asserting their function as ideological strongholds of the ruling class, did retain on student intake. The Labor government, with its reformist policies, was not prepared to challenge their position.

The status of polytechnics was different. As institutions of the "public sector”, they not only depended on state finance, but were also subject to direct government planing. Their enforced expansion, with restricted resources, was intended to save money./ in reality, the separate development of polytechnics and universities meant duplication and waste and deepened the social division between the two sectors.

The maintenance of this "binary” policy led to growing conflict by the end of the 1960s between the Labor government and progressives. Left forces in the Labor Party itself demanded a system of unified financing and administration (under a central education commission, responsible to the Department of Education and Science), while programs of the Communist Party and progressive teachers’ unions went further, for example with proposals for the representation of teachers, students and democratic organisations on the regional bodies of a unified higher education system. Within the limits imposed by the capitalist order, these were worth-while and realistic demands.

The 1970s-Change to restriction

As economic difficulties increased, pressure from the monopolies caused one question to dominate more and more: how to reduce the cost of educational expansion. A first response followed with the Tories’ White Paper on Education in 1972, which slowed down the growth rate of higher education, limiting both resources and student numbers

By the mid-1970s, the capitalist critics completely overshadowed economic life in Britain. The new Labor government (1974 onwards), giving way to increasing pressure from the monopolies, forced through devastating cuts in social expenditure, including education. They announced even lower projection of students numbers for the 1980s than the 1972 White Paper had done. The number of full-time places in higher education, having risen only slowly during the early 1970s, was to reach no more than 550,000 by 1981/82. This meant a percentage of 18-year-olds entering full-time studies that would be no higher than a decade earlier. The revised estimates went with immediate cuts in building, equipment, staff and courses.

All these restrictions were wrapped up in arguments about an alleged falling demand for education, unemployment of graduates and a dropping birthrate. But the real problem lay in the effects of the economic crisis:

- Opportunities to study lessened, especially for the working class, as a result both of the cuts in education and the worsening financial position of wide sections of the working population.

- The "labor market” for students tightened: not because there were already too many qualified specialists, but because overall economic activity had been drastically reduced.

- Young teachers in particular faced large-scale unemployment. The government’s claim that the birthrate (and hence numbers of future pupils) had dropped was based on uncertain estimates. The essential reason for training fewer teachers was that school expenditure had been cut back.

Short-sighted economising also affected course development in the mid-1970s.

The Labor government speeded up the reshaping of teacher training already envisaged in the White Paper of 1972. Some colleges were to be integrated in polytechnics, some merged with other colleges in further education to become new institutes (or colleges) of higher education, a few were to remain in existence on their own , and a number of colleges were shut down altogether. Although the closer link between teacher training and further education, especially polytechnics, had advantages regarding the character of courses, this was far outweighed by the fact that the overriding aim of the changes was simply to save money.

The restructuring of teachers’ courses was itself contradictory. A new form of the Bachelor of Education (Bed) degree was established, replacing an earlier scheme of the late 1960s. Supervised by the CNAA, it was to combine academic studies and practical training. It had positive features, but was initially not introduced for all teachers, and the older sub-degree certificate course continued to be taught.

A further controversial innovation was a two-year course for the so-called Diploma in Higher Education (DipHE), designed both as the first part of the new BEd, and as a course in its own right provided at any institution within higher education. There was little doubt that the DipHE was intended primarily to provide a cheap way of meeting the continuing demand for higher education. Questions of content were left open, no attempt was made to ensure that DipHE students could transfer to full degree courses other than the BEd , and the value of the DipHE as a qualification remained very uncertain.

Apart from the hampering effect on educational provision, the impact of the capitalist crisis on education was also clearly evident in the ideological field. Reactionary ideas (that of inborn intelligence, for instance) reasserted themselves, and Marxists came under attack.

The progressive forces themselves were affected. Their campaigns at some points became defensive, concentrating too much on purely material questions- a tendency which Marxists have always had to combat. On the other hand, the ties between teacher and student unions and the labor movement were consolidated.

Pointing the way forward, Communist and others on the left stressed the need to associate immediate with long-term issue, always trying to stimulate fresh initiatives on the vital questions that had already been raised in the late 1960s-on course content, the aims and organisation of higher education, and its role in the struggle to achieve fundamental change in Britain.

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