19.10.06

EXPORTING BAD IDEAS? A British reader asks if higher education in Britain is importing the access-assessment-remediation-retention follies from the States. This essay (via Phi Beta Cons) suggests that it is.

The wheels are starting to come off the higher-education juggernaut in Britain. Our school leavers are not the only ones to smell a rat in the empire-building propaganda disseminated by our vice-chancellors and politicians. The business editor of the London Daily Telegraph, Jeff Randall, put it this way:

"...instead of learning useful trades, such as plumbing and carpentry, many of Britain's less academically inclined youth are being lured on to the rocks of unemployment by the siren call of dumbed-down universities and their crackpot degrees.".

Sadly, many of our school leavers are so woefully lacking in basic skills that they can't even train for work in the construction industry. Many school leavers have no idea how to calculate the area of rectangles, let alone more complex shapes. Simple and vital tasks such as calculating the amount of concrete needed to pour a garage floor are far beyond them. Many of them cannot read well enough to understand blueprints. Still less can they write a coherent note, never mind a quote for a prospective customer.

The rush to expand higher education is rapidly destroying British universities, which used to be among the world's best. I attended the University of Michigan in the 1960s without ever being inspired enough to complete a degree. But between 1989 and 1993, I studied English History at the University of East Anglia, a decent but hardly prestigious 'new' university where all the buildings are unadorned concrete block. I was fortunate to study in the last class before the American 'modular' system was introduced. For 6 hours each week, I attended seminars (averaging 15 students) led by some of the best scholars in the field. It changed the way I look at life, and gave me an understanding of what it means to be an educated citizen.

You mean face time with experienced faculty matters? I would object, though, that at Michigan (hardly the largest of the Midwestern flagship universities), getting some one-on-one time during office hours is probably not as difficult as this article makes it seem.

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