Merger at the ministry

July 21, 1995

One doesn't have to be a member of the great and the good to agree with Baroness Warnock's analysis of the confusion between education and training.

When the former polytechnics became universities their training functions came to be seen as characteristic - desirable, in fact - for all modern universities. Hence the view of some influential figures in higher education that training justifies education; whereas, if anything, the opposite is the case: education is its own reward but if it yields useful skills so much the better.

Hence, too, the proliferation of departments, mainly in the new universities, devoted to such supposedly useful, and intellectually vacuous, subjects as management, tourism and catering.

A beautiful irony is that the new universities are most intellectually distinguished in those disciplines having the least vocational relevance, eg cultural studies and philosophy; whereas in the potentially relevant disciplines of mathematics and the sciences the new universities remain drably undistinguished; there is little serious research and the lonely few who do it are, largely, unrewarded. One imagines Mrs Shephard, smiling as ever, as we are engulfed in a sea of jargon (GNVQ. . . transferable skills. . . profiling. . . portfolios. . . competencies and capabilities. . .), all the time oblivious of the decline in educational standards over which she presides.

Lionel March Kidlington Oxon

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