Pipe dream flushes out critics 1

August 2, 2002

Ruth Lea perpetuates the myth that universities have nothing to do with vocational education ("Best way to a plumb job", THES , July 26). But whether it is engineering, accountancy, biotechnology, teaching, sport science or media studies, most courses are vocational. Even classic courses, such as politics, philosophy and economics or history, trained politicians and others in the 19th century and beyond.

The division between academic and vocational education is a root cause of many of Britain's educational ills. This division is a left-over from the 19th-century class system. It does not exist in Germany, Japan or the US. Some major competitors already have more than 50 per cent of the population experiencing higher education.

People talk about learning, but learning that is relevant to someone, usually the individual, employer, society or a combination of all three. Provision dominated by the institutionalised needs and vested interests of the providers, that is academics, is distorted.

Education is about developing people's potential. Yet 80 per cent of parents, in one small group in society, assume their children will go to university, whereas probably only 20 per cent in a much larger group do. Maybe fewer of the top socioeconomic classifications should be accepted for universities? Why shouldn't my plumber have a university degree as long as he/she is formally qualified in plumbing and a member of a recognised professional body that takes lifelong learning seriously?

Where is the evidence to support the reactionary views from the Institute of Directors?

Bruce Lloyd
Professor of strategic management
South Bank University

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