Beyond training

August 4, 2016

Re “The vocational alternative: a definitive opportunity for universities?” (31 July)

How often do we have to read of universities’ failure to “equip” young people for work when their brief is to “educate” young people in preparation for an employer’s training programme? Isn’t that what a graduate training scheme is? Of course there are alternative routes to becoming a skilled professional. Taking a youngster from school and fully training that individual into the role of, say, engineer is no different from taking a university graduate and giving them the chance to pass through a graduate training scheme. From an engineering perspective, they are equivalent in what they can do, but they are not equivalent as individuals: only one has been both educated and trained.

The polytechnics did much to build bridges across the binary divide, but all their good work was scuppered by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. It is not surprising that Manchester Metropolitan University is doing sound vocational type work…that is its history; but I’m surprised that it is embracing “degree apprenticeships” because such things are not real: you can have one or the other but not both. If what they mean by “combining time at a university with in-work training and experience” is what used to be called a sandwich programme, then fine; otherwise, a degree apprenticeship is just another form of hype that will quickly disappear.

Having employers sit “at the heart of a dynamic skills system to ensure the day-to-day training and education that individuals receive genuinely meet the needs of industry” is deeply worrying. As they are incapable of defining what a skill is, I’m not sure how they can ensure anything. It would be much better if they stopped meddling in university curricula and better funded their own training programmes.


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