One higher education label does not fit all

January 17, 2008

The unstated component of the current "crisis" in higher education is that of the upgrading of polytechnics to the status of universities ("Are schools failing universities?" 10 January). Simon Jenkins, in his book Accountable to None: The Tory Nationalization of Britain, succinctly puts this the other way: the universities all became polytechnics.

My training in the 1960s combined skills and understanding mechanical engineering through work in the manufacturing "shops" and studies at the local technical college. I upgraded to a college of technology, went into professional work and thus into a polytechnic. I then went on to teach at a university that had been a polytechnic. In fact, I have retrospectively qualified at a total of four universities!

The problem now is that, since the 1960s, six times the number of students enter higher education and all under the rubric "university". The situation is made worse by the fact that a wide range of minds is annually approaching the universities, themselves traditionally structured to handle a "narrowcast" set of minds, the specialists or the academic elite.

The pre-Robbins era of a wide range of higher education opportunities in polytechnics and colleges of technology surely would have been much better suited to the problems of the 2000s and its single file of universities.

John Preston, South Croydon, Surrey.

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