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Further and higher education in Great Britain

Part I.

Higher Education in Britain

1. Scan the article and find the answers to the questions:

1. Name the traditional ways of getting further education in Britain.

2. What encouraged the massive expansion of higher education? Name the main categories of the universities in UK.

3. What makes Oxford and Cambridge continue to attract the best brains?

4. What differs the Scottish universities from those in England and Wales?

5. What effects the appearance of the universities in the industrial centers?

6. What effects did the expansion of higher education in the 1960s have?

7. Name the basic Degree courses in the universities.

8. What are the specialist higher education institutions designed for?

9. What was the University Funding Council established for?

  1. What higher education is free for all in Britain? What has the system of funding tuition and day-to-day expenses led to?
  2. Does elitism still remain one of the major problems in the British educational system?

Ňĺxt 1.

Further and higher education in Great Britain

Further education has traditionally been characterized by part-time vocational courses for those who leave school at the age of 16 but need to acquire a skill, be that in the manual, technical or clerical field. In all, about three million students enroll each year in part-time courses at further education (FE) colleges, some released by their employers and a greater number unemployed. In addition there has always been a much smaller proportion in a full-time training. In 1985 this figure was a meager 400 000, but by 1995 this had doubled. Given Labour’s emphasis on improving the skills level of all school-leavers, this expansion will continue. Vocational training, most of which is conducted at the country’s 550 further education colleges is bound to be an important component.

Higher education has also undergone a massive expansion. In 1985 only 573 000, 16 per cent of young people, were enrolled in full-time higher education. Ten years later the number was 1 150 000, no less than 30 per cent of their age group.

This massive expansion was achieved by greatly enlarging access to undergraduate courses, but also by authorizing the old polytechnics to grant their own degree awards, and also to rename themselves as universities. Thus there are today 90 universities, compared with 47 in 1990, and only seventeen in 1945. They fall into five broad categories: the mediaeval English foundations, the mediaeval Scottish ones, the nineteenth-century ‘redbrick’ ones, the twentieth-century ‘plate-glass’ ones, and finally the previous polytechnics. They are all private institutions, receiving direct grants from central government.

Îxford and Cambridge, founded in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries respectively, are easily the most famous of Britain’s universities. Today “Oxbridge”, as the two together are known, educate less than one-twentieth of Britain’s total university student population. But they continue to attract many of the best brains and to mesmerise an even greater number, partly on account of their prestige, but also on account of the seductive beauty of many of their buildings and surroundings.



Both universities grew gradually, as federations of independent colleges, most of which were founded in fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In both universities, however, new colleges are periodically established, for example Green College, Oxford (1979) and Robinson College, Cambridge (1977).

Scotland boasts four ancient universities: Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Aberdeen, all founded in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the Scottish lowlands greater value was placed on education during the sixteenth and later centuries than in much England. These universities were created with strong links with the ancient universities of continental Europe, and followed their longer and broader course of studies. Even today, Scottish universities provide four-year undergraduate courses, compared with the usual three-year courses in England and Wales.

In the nineteenth century more universities were established to respond to the greatly increased demand for educated people as a result of the Industrial revolution and the expansion of Britain’s overseas empire. Many of these were sited in the industrial centers, for example Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle, and Liverpool and Bristol.

With the expansion of higher education in the 1960s ‘plate-glass’ universities were established, some named after counties or regions rather than old cities, for example Sussex, Kent, East Anglia and Strathclyde. Over 50 polytechnics and similar higher education institutions acquired university status in 1992. There is also a highly successful Open University, which provides every person in Britain with the opportunity to study for a degree, without leaving their home. It is particularly designed for adults who missed the opportunity for higher education earlier in life. It conducts learning through correspondence, radio and television, and also through local study centre.

University examinations are for Arts or of Science (BA or BSc) on completion of the undergraduate course, and Master of Arts or of Science (MA or MSc) on completion of postgraduate work, usually a one – or two-year course involving some original research. Some students continue to complete a three-year period of original research for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). The bachelor degree is normally classed, with about per cent normally gaining a First , about 30 per cent gaining an Upper Second, or 2.1., perhaps 40 per cent gaining a Lower Second, or 2.2., and the balance getting either a Third, a Pass or failing. Approximately 15 per cent fail to complete their degree course.

In addition there are a large number of specialists’ higher education institutions in the realm of the performing and visual arts. For example, there are four leading conservatories: the Royal Academy of Music, The Royal College of Music, Trinity College of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music. There are a large number of art colleges, of which the most famous is the Royal College of Art, where both Henry Moore and David Hockney once studied. Other colleges cater for dance, filmmaking and other specialist areas of artistic study.

In spite of the high fees, Britain’s universities, FE colleges and English language schools host a large number of foreign students, in 1996 there were no fewer than 158 000.

In 1988 a new funding body, the University funding Council, was established, with power to require universities to produce a certain number of qualified people in specific fields. It is under the UFC’s watchful eye that the universities have been forced to double their student intake, and each university department is assessed on its performance and quality. The fear, of course, is that the greatly increased quantity of students that universities must now take might lead to a loss of academic quality.

Expansion has led to a growing funding gap. Universities have been forced to seek sponsorship from the commercial world, wealthy patrons and also from their alumni. The Conservative Party also decided to reduce maintenance grants but to offer students loans in order to finance their studies. However, the funding gap has continued to grow and Labour shocked many who had voted for it by introducing tuition fees at 1 000 pounds per annum in 1998. Although poorer students were to be exempted it was feared that, even with student loans, up to 10 per cent of those planning to go to university would abandon the idea. One effect of the financial burden is that more students are living at home while continuing their studies: about 50 per cent at the ex-polytechnics, but only 15 per cent at the older universities.

Today many university science and technology departments, for example at Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Imperial College London, and Strathclyde, are among the best in Europe. The concern is whether they will continue to be so in the future. Academics’ pay has fallen so far behind other professions and behind academic salaries elsewhere that many of the best brains have gone abroad. Adequate pay and sufficient research funding to keep the best in Britain remains a major challenge.

As with the schools system, so also with higher education: there is a real problem about the exclusivity of Britain’s two oldest universities. While Oxbridge is no longer the preserve of social elite, it retains its exclusive, narrow and spell-binding culture. Together with the public school system, it creates a narrow social and intellectual channel from which the nation’s leaders are almost exclusively drawn. In 1996 few people were in top jobs in the Civil Service, the armed forces, the law or finance, who had not been either to a public school or Oxbridge, or to both.

The problem is not the quality of education offered either in the independent schools or Oxbridge. The problem is cultural. Can the products of such exclusive establishments remain closely in touch with the remaining 95 per cent of the population? If the expectation is that Oxbridge, particularly, will continue to dominate the controlling positions in the state and economy, is the country ignoring equal talent which does not have the Oxbridge label?

D. Mc Dowall

“Britain in close-up”.

1. tutor 2. lecturer 3. undergraduate 4. postgraduate 5. finals 6. research 7. tuition fee 8. degree 9. seminar 10. to study 11. to teach 12. to take/pass examinations 13. to fail 14. to compete 15. to select 16. to enter 17. to graduate from  

Date: 2015-12-17; view: 1113


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