The higher aims of youth
Full-time advanced further education—post “A” level or equivalent work—has grown more rapidly than any other sector of higher education over the past decade. It caters for some 90,000 students on full-time courses, including sandwich courses, about a fifth of the total in the whole of higher education, including universities and the colleges of education.
In addition to these 90,000 students there are in further education about 110,000 students taking advanced studies part time, and about 1½ million on other further education courses. (None of these figures includes the 1½ million other people who attend evening institutes.)
The main increases in the number of students in further education are in full time and sandwich courses and in advanced studies generally. Most of the higher education work takes place in the 30 polytechnics which have been established in the past few years, but there is a substantial amount in some 100 or more of the other further education colleges.
Why has advanced further education grown so rapidly? One reason is that increasing numbers of young people have seen in it the answer to their needs.
There is much talk of the need for relevance in education. I have much sympathy with the thought that lies behind this, but what do we mean by “relevance” ? Relevance can take different forms. The needs of individuals vary: some people wish to pursue a strong personal interest; some desire to study in depth a subject in which they have a scholarly interest; while many young people—and their parents—look to education to provide knowledge and skills that can be put to use in various ways in later life, and in particular in working life. And relevance has to be considered, too, in the light of the needs of society and of industry and commerce.
Our range of post-school institutions provides a variety of responses to the many needs, with further education—the main subject of this series of articles—making a most important contribution.
Further education has a number of special and valuable features. Among these are that its courses provide education which, if not always directly vocational, has for the most part a vocational purpose in mind; that it provides extensively for sandwich courses—combining periods of full-time study with periods of full-time training in industry or commerce—and for part-time courses; that it caters for people already in work as well as for school leavers; and that it offers courses at several levels. This latter feature not only provides for different levels of ability but it makes it possible for the conscientious student who develops to progress upwards from one qualification to the next course.
Higher education is, of course, not solely degree work. Advanced further education includes also courses leading to professional qualifications, and sub-degree courses. For such subdegree courses as those for the Higher National Diploma and Higher National Certificate, the basic entry requirement is five GCEs, including one “A” level, or an appropriate ordinary national diploma or certificate. Further education institutions will also be among those introducing the new Diploma in Higher Education.
Further education provides courses relevant to the needs of society and to employment opportunities—and provides new courses as employment patterns change. Business studies and computer science have been among the developing subjects; further education, along with the business schools and some universities, is a major provider of postgraduate and postexperience management courses; and the provision of language courses relevant to business life is typical of the further education approach.
Among the courses that are post “A” level or equivalent, those in social, administrative, and arts subjects have grown and now account for more than half the total of all students on advanced courses, with engineering and technology accounting for about three tenths, and science and other science-based subjects accounting for the remainder.
A major factor promoting change in the future will be moves towards coordinating higher education outside the universities, which involves removing the dividing line which separates the colleges of education from further education. It is likely that in many cases colleges of education will merge with other institutions.
In the White Paper of December, 1972, the nonuniversity full-time higher education sector in Great Britain was projected to grow more quickly than the universities, from 227,000 students in 1971 to about 375,000 by 1981, and, by that date to equal the university sector in size with the polytechnics having a major rôle.
It is too early to say in detail what effects higher education's share of public spending cuts announced on December 17, 1973, will have; but though the expansion of the number of higher education places will be affected, the underlying policy remains—to provide places for those who qualify and who wish to take them up. The White Paper's figures were not the policy but the best estimate in 1972 of what the policy might require. The latest indications are that the number of places then projected is too large. Thus, in 1973 the number of new entrants to full-time and sandwich courses of advanced further education in England and Wales was virtually the same as in 1972, and there was likewise no increase in the home undergraduate entry to universities.
Even before December 17, the changing student demand was leading us to look again at the volume and time-scale of higher education expansion. When we have come to a conclusion, we shall make it known.
The great expansion in the proportion of the population obtaining a degree or similar high qualification means that today's graduate, and tomorrow's cannot expect to move easily into the type of job that graduates expected in the past. As we said in the White Paper, there is little doubt that the continuing expansion of higher education will more than match the likely expansion of graduate employment opportunities as these are understood today. It follows that the subsequent career patterns of some of those now taking degree courses must be expected to differ significantly from those of their predecessors Many science graduates, for example, now take jobs as technicians. This is no bad thing. In the modern world, Britain needs high skills at such levels. There is a general trend for employers and professional bodies to demand higher qualifications. More graduates are needed in teaching. And in many jobs highly qualified people who are able to apply trained minds to situations, to respond to new developments, and to benefit from refresher and updating courses are welcome. There is much need for preparation for flexibility.
I should like to take this opportunity of stressing that it is not enough to provide the places and the variety of courses in further education and elsewhere—vital as that is. Much effort is also needed to help towards making the right choice of course. One of the most tragic wastes in education is the case of the student who during his course comes to realise it is the wrong one for him. I very much hope that all secondary schools will review their programmes of careers education in the light of the results of the survey by HM Inspectors published by my department last October And I would emphasise that no school's programme of guidance and information on courses and careers would be complete without full coverage—for girls as well as boys—of what further education has to offer.