Common core for subject must be resisted

January 12, 1996

Geography must resist pressures for a common core curriculum in higher education, according to Michael Bradford, senior lecturer at Manchester University.

Dr Bradford said that a national curriculum for the first year of higher education had been increasingly mooted in recent years. There were pressures to reduce student contact time in order to give more time to research, either using computer learning or using postgraduates as teachers - and this was made easier if students were all studying the same thing.

Dr Bradford, one of the few geographers involved in the first round of the Higher Education Funding Council for England's Teaching and Learning Technology Programme, said he was fully aware of the potential of information technology as a useful supplement to staff teaching. But he warned that the use of technology had an in-built pressure towards a common core, since creating computer packages was a lengthy process, and producers would want a large market and little change in material.

A common core would be particularly harmful to geography, since it was a very dynamic subject, and current experiences suggested that a national curriculum led to subject fossilisation, Dr Bradford argued.

He added that a common core could lead to a particular view of geography dominating the subject, and this would be extremely unhealthy for a subject which was noted for rapid change.

If such a core had been set up ten years ago, Dr Bradford said, there would have been no socio-cultural geography, and much less global work in human or physical geography.

"I'm arguing for a variety of first-year programmes," he said. "It allows for easier introduction of innovations, and it offers a greater choice to students, who should be choosing universities because they are different from one another."

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