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Colleges and Universities in Great Britain

Text A

Read and translate the text. Discuss the possibilities of getting ‘further education’ in England.


Most formal education after school is done in the various technical and other colleges, of which there is at least one in every town. There are more than 550, big and small, specialised or more general, mostly maintained by their local education authorities. Some of their students do full-time courses, but many have jobs and attend classes in the evenings, or on one or two days a week, preparing themselves for diplomas or certificates of proficiency in the innumerable skills which a modern society needs. These courses may be suitable for people who have left school at sixteen, or at a higher level. Some colleges prepare students for certificates of education, supplementing the work of equivalent level done in ordinary schools. The variety of colleges and courses is so great that it is impossible to make general statements about them. The students are of all ages, including older people developing new skills. In general the bigger the college the greater the range of its courses though attempts which are made within each local area to provide courses suitable for most of the people who want to obtain qualifications for their careers. Vocational training, most of which is conducted at the country’s further education colleges is bound to be an important component.

In general, people who undertake ‘further education’ beyond the age of eighteen pay fees for their tuition as well as their living costs, though for a long time until around 1980 the tuition fees were very low, and almost all the costs were covered by grants from public funds – that is, the process of taxation.

However, students living in Britain may receive grants from the local authorities of the counties where they have their homes. The amount of the grant depends on their parents’ income. The maximum, payable to people with low incomes, is fixed by the central government, and is supposed to be enough to cover the whole of the student’s costs. However, students have always argued that the grants are not enough. Wealthy parents have to pay almost all costs.


For higher-level studies the main qualifications is the ‘first’ degree of Bachelor(of Arts, Science,etc.)which can be attained by students who pass their university examinations, or in some cases other examinations of equivalent level. This normally involves at least three years of full-time study after passing the advanced level certificate of education at the age of about eighteen, so most people who become BA, BSc, etc. do so at the age of at least twenty-one. First degrees in medicine require six years of study, some others four. It is now quite usual for students in subject such as engineering to spend periods during their degree courses away from their academic studies, in industrial location so that they may get practical experience. A student of a foreign language normally spends a year in a country where that language is spoken. Bachelors’ degrees are usually awarded on the basis of answers to several three-hour examinations together with practical work or long essays or dissertations written in conjunction with class work. Degrees are classified. About a tenth (or less) of candidates win first-class honours degrees, three-quarters second-class (divided nearly equally into two groups) the rest third-class, or pass without humorous, or fail. A person studying for a degree at a British university is called an undergraduate, one who has taken a degree is called a graduate.

Some students continue to study for degrees of Master (of Arts, Science, etc.) which often need two further years of study, with examination papers and substantial dissertations. A minority go on further, preparing theses which must make original contributions to knowledge, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy(PhD). Higher-degree study is more common among students of natural or applied sciences than among those studying the arts – that is, philosophy, history, English or foreign languages – or the social sciences such as economics, sociology, political science or law. But many people who gain first degrees in these subjects often go on to more practical training courses which lead to various kinds of professional qualifications.

Text B

Read the text. Discuss the main stages in the development of Britain’s university system.


There are 90 universities in Great Britain today, compared with 47 in 1990, and only seventeen in 1945. They fall into five broad categories: the medieval English universities, the medieval Scottish ones, the nineteenth-century ‘redbrick’ ones, the previous polytechnics, and finally the twentieth-century ‘plate-glass’ universities. They are all private institutions, receiving direct grants from central government.

The beginning of the modern university system came with the grant of a charter to the University of London in 1836. It consisted then of two recently-founded colleges, and others were added at various later dates. Another university, at Durham in the north, was founded in 1832, but it remained small until quite recently. The University of Wales was established in 1893, with one constituent college in each of two big towns and two small ones. 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 the Britain’s overseas empire. Many of these were sited in the industrial centres, for example Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle, Liverpool and Bristol. ‘Redbrick’ universities were built to provide a liberal education for poorer boys and to give technological training, while Oxford and Cambridge were more philosophical, classical and theological.

During the nineteenth century colleges which were founded in the biggest English towns began to prepare students for external degrees of the University of London. At various dates between 1900 and 1962 these university colleges were granted charters as full universities, with the right to confer degrees on their own account. During the 1960s they all expanded fast, and seven completely new universities were founded in addition, all of them establishing campuses on the edges of historic towns without much industry. Meanwhile, some of the local authorities’ technical colleges had developed their courses to a higher level, and eight of these were given their own charters in 1966-67. So within three years the number of universities in England doubled, to 32; and in Scotland too four new ones were added.

As distinct from the colleges and polytechnics, the universities have always been independent of both local authorities and state. Each has a council as its affective governing body (composed of professors, lecturers’ and students’ representatives and local notables) and a vice-chancellor (appointed by the council) as an academic chief. Each university has its own organization, but usually there are about six faculties, each containing a group of departments (for example a faculty of Arts for history, English, philosophy and languages).

Lecturers are appointed on the basis of their achievements in their first-degree examinations and postgraduate research. Their security of tenure in their jobs is being reduced. A lecturer who produces published research papers which are praised by the academic community may be promoted to the grade of reader. To be appointed to a professor’s chair it is usually necessary to move to another university. Success in obtaining grants of money for research projects helps towards promotion.

Apart from lecture courses the teaching is done mostly in laboratories or in tutorial groups for three or four students, or seminars for about ten. Students are required to write numerous essays or seminar papers, which maybe discussed in the group meetings. Some of these may be used for assessment towards the class of degree awarded. There are usually not more than twelve students for each teacher in a department, and there is plenty of personal contact between them.

Each university’s faculties issue prospectuses describing their courses. Anyone wanting to enter a university gets copies of several of these and an application form from the Universities’ Central Council for Admissions, on which to enter applications for up to five courses in different universities. Applicants then go to visit the universities to which they have applied, and may be interviewed by lecturers, who eventually decide which of the applicants to accept, mainly on the basis of the grades obtained in the advanced-level certificate examinations. Each course has a quota of new students which ought not to be exceeded, so entry to each course is in effect competitive. Perhaps as a result of this restricted entry, only about an eighth of students who start university courses fail to complete them.

One new venture was the founding of a new independent university at Buckingham, 40 kilometres from the Oxford. It is financed entirely by students’ fees and private contributions, and by 1983 it was solidly established. It then received a charter enabling it to grant its own degrees. By the 1988 there were 700 students. They can cover the work of a normal three-year course in two years by having no long summer vacation.

The great majority of students are in universities far from their homes; Bristol university has very few students who live near it, but many people who live in Bristol are at other universities. Each university has halls of residence with enough room for all or most of the first-year students, and in most cases for others too. For their last years of study most live in rented flats.

The preference for studying at universities away from home is probably linked with the old importance of the boarding public schools, and with the old pre-eminence of Oxford and Cambridge, which were for so long the only universities in the country.

In most universities students have their own ‘societies’ which are centres of cultural and recreation activity. There are political, religious, dramatic, sporting and many other societies. Sporting activities are as varied and numerous as the societies, and there is keen rivalry between the colleges.

Text C

Read the text and discuss the information it contains.


England is unusual among European countries in having had only two universities until 1820 – though there were already four in Scotland in the sixteenth century, when Scotland was still a separate kingdom. England’s two ancient universities, Oxford and Cambridge, were the only ones in the country for almost 500 years. They still have a special pre-eminence, as well as many characteristics peculiar to themselves, and are best considered separately.

Oxford University dates from the Middle Ages. It was founded in the 13th century as an aristocratic university. Now the University consists of 39 colleges located in a beautiful city of Oxford on the river Thames about fifty miles from London. Most of the Oxford colleges are fine buildings of grey or yellow stone with Merton college being the oldest which started in 1264.

Cambridge is situated at a distance of seventy miles from London, the great part of the town lies on the left bank of the river Cam crossed by several bridges. Cambridge University consists of 29 colleges, each of them is an autonomous body governed by its own laws.

As recently as 1950 these two universities together had almost as many students as all the other English universities outside London. Now they have less than a tenth of all university students, but they have had a big influence on the development of the university system, including the use of small groups for teaching.

Oxford and Cambridge are known for their tutorial system of education. The students have lectures and tutorials. Each student has a tutor who gives personal instructions to the students numbering not more than four. Every week the tutor and his students meet to discuss the work they have done, and to set the next week’s work. He requires from his students to write essays and papers on the subjects they are studying. Tutors are responsible for the students’ progress.

The students of these universities make up one of the most elite elites in the world. Many great men such as Bacon, Milton, Cromwell, Newton, Byron, Darwin, Rutherford and many other scientists and writers were educated there as well as members of the Royal family. Nowadays their pre-eminence is diminishing, but not extinct. They continue to attract many of the best brains and to mesmerise, an even greater number, mostly on the account of their prestige. Both universities grew gradually, as federation of independent colleges, most of which were founded in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In both universities, however, new colleges are periodically established: Green College, Oxford (1979), and Robinson College, Cambridge (1977), so the universities are still growing.

Keeping their old customs, all the students must wear black gowns and caps. They eat their meals in the college dining hall, a large room with long tables line the hall and at one end there is a raised platform on which is a special table for the Dons, known as the High Table. It is a great honour to be invited to dine at the High Table.

Discipline out of college is the responsibility of two Dons appointed by the university, called Proctors. Each evening a Proctor with two assistants, called “Bulldogs”, in full morning dress and top hats, wanders about the town keeping an eye on the students’ behaviour.

These two ancient universities have, through the centuries, had a major role in English politics – Oxford more than Cambridge. Of the nine prime ministers since 1955 Mrs Thatcher was the seventh to have been to Oxford University. In 1988 her cabinet of twenty-one included seven who had been to Oxford, seven to Cambridge; two had been to old Scottish universities, one to London, none to any other university in England. The top civil servants have a similar background. This preponderance of Oxford and Cambridge graduates among the political elite (and among MPs in general) has declined, but it is still significant.

With about 10,000 first-degree students each and over 2,000 postgraduates Oxford and Cambridge are not big by modern standards. In most respects they are similar to each other so a general description of one could apply to the other as well.

Apart from newly-developed small colleges for postgraduates, Oxford has more than twenty separate colleges, all rather like small independent universities. Sixteen of them already existed in 1600, when a few were already well over 200 years old, scattered among the streets of what is now the middle part of this town of about 100,000 people. Each college has within its precincts a hall, chapel, common rooms, library, lecture rooms, old and new buildings where half or two-thirds of the students and some staff live. Each college has between 200 and 400 undergraduate students and around thirty or more fellows (colloquially, ‘dons’), who teach small groups as well as forming the college governing body. Nearly all the fellows (called by some other title in a few colleges) also hold office as university lecturers or professors, and are paid partly by the university, partly by their colleges. For each subject there is a university organization resembling the departments in the other universities. Each college has a chief, who may be entitled Master, Warden, Provost, Rector, Principal, President or Dean

For lecture courses, which are centrally organized, students go to other colleges or to the central lecture rooms, which are also used for the university’s examinations. Teaching and research in sciences must be mainly in university laboratories.

All the colleges now take both men and women students, except for two of the five which were founded for women about 100 years ago. This change has been major revolution of the past twenty years; so too has been the modernization of the students’ rooms on the old college staircases, with proper plumbing, baths and central heating systems.

With their old college buildings Oxford and Cambridge are inevitably visited by countless tourists, who are allowed to go within some college precincts, including the best gardens, at least on summer afternoons. The fifteenth-century chapel of King’s College, Cambridge is one of England’s finest churches, and the chapel of Oxford’s grandest college (called Christ Church – or more familiarity and with a curious arrogance, ‘The House’) serves as the cathedral of the diocese. Oxford’s 400-year old Bodleian Library, like that of Cambridge, is entitled, by long-established law, to receive free of charge a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom.

Some of the colleges in both universities are very wealthy, owing vast areas of land all over England. But much of the revenue from all this property is absorbed by the additional costs which arise form the maintenance of ancient buildings and providing everything that is needed for any university at an exceptionally high quality. For their basic expenditure Oxford and Cambridge, like other universities, became accustomed to dependence on the grants which the central government distributed in the period of expansion in roughly 1950–75. Since 1975 they, like other universities, have had to adapt themselves to steadily less generous government financing.

The universities were encouraged to try to supplement their funds form non-government sources, particularly for research projects. They have tried hard, with some success, to fill their buildings with conferences in vacations.

Text D

Read the text. Make up questions on the main facts of the text. Discuss your questions in pairs.


There has been great progress with adult education in the country. For a long time university extra-mural departments have provided a great range of evening classes, in courses of varying length, often as joint ventures with the Workers’ Educational Association. Some of these classes are led by full-time extra-mural tutors, others by regular lecturers in their spare time. A recent change of policy has enabled some of these courses to end with formal examinations, and diplomas for the successful students.

The Open university developed quickly in the 1970s. It was devised to satisfy the needs of working people of any age who wish to study in their spare time for degrees. It has a centre at the new town of Milton Kenyes, between Oxford and Cambridge. Its full-time staff have produced the whole library of short course-books which anyone can buy by post or from any major bookshop. They devise courses which they present on one of the BBC’s television channels and by radio. Most course work is run by part-time tutors (many of whom are lectures at other universities ); these are scattered around the country, and meet students to discuss their work at regular intervals. There are short residential summer courses. The students are of all ages, some of them retired. They may spread their studies over several years, and choose their courses to suit their individual needs and preferences. Over 100,000 people are enrolled, in all parts of the country.

The Open University has helped greatly towards the idea of education accessible to everyone who aspires to it, at every level. For those retired people who do not want to work for diplomas or degrees there is a University of the Third Age, with about 100 centres. It has almost no formal structure except a system of communication which helps small groups to form themselves spontaneously to study. It gets no government funds, and collects small subscriptions from its participants.

Time and Education

Fashion in education change. The great rise of sociology in the 1960s soon collapsed, to be replaced by an even greater burgeoning of business studies and of training in the skills of management. Modern government policies cannot afford to neglect the role of education in developing the skills needed in the contemporary world – not only in applied sciences, but in the numeracy, at different levels, required in a world where computers have an increasing role, and also, in a quite different direction, in the ability to make effective use of language other than English.

There is no doubt that more Dutch and Scandinavian people can perform better in English than the British can in any other language.
The Japanese may be less competent with foreign languages even than the British, but their mathematical skills, as well as others, have been shown to be superior.

It is partly for this reason that Mrs Thatcher’s government was rather more supportive in its attitude to the polytechnics than to the older universities. Most polytechnic students study applied science, management or business studies. Their provision for languages is in general directed to the development of practical competence, including ability to cope with the special forms of language needed for aspects of the contemporary world’s activities. There is, in general, a new emphasis on the role of education in preparing people for their future functions in the economy.

Text E

Look through the text. Speak about higher educational establishments in Great Britain.

Date: 2016-03-03; view: 1144

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