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Contradiction and Change in British Higher Education



Introduction p.2

2. Contradiction and Change in British Higher Education p.3

3. Background to the Present Contradictions p.3

a. The 1960s-Decade of Expansion p.5

b. The 1970s-Change to restriction p.9


There are more than 60 universities in the UK The leading universities are Cambridge, Oxford and London. English universities differ from each other in traditions, general organization, internal government, etc. British universities are comparatively small, the approximate number is about 7-8 thousand students. Most universities have under 3000 students, some even less than 1500 ones. London and Oxford universities are international, because people from many parts of the world come to study at one of their colleges. A number of wellknown scientists and writers, among them Newton, Darvin, Byron were educated in Cambridge.

A university consists of a number of departments: art, law, music, economy, education, medicine, engineering, etc. After a three years of study a student may proceed to a Bachelor's degree, and later to the degree of Master and Doctor. Besides universities there are at present in Britain 300 technical colleges, providing part-time and full-time education. The organization system of Oxford and Cambridge differs from that of all other universities and colleges. The teachers are usually called Dons. Part of the teaching is by means of lecture organized by the colleges. Each student goes to his tutor's room once a week to read and discuss an essay which the student has prepared.

Some students get scholarship but the number of these students is comparatively small. There are many sociaties and clubs at Cambridge and Oxford. The most celebrating at Cambridge is the Debating Sociaty at which discuss political and other questions with famous politicians and writers. Sporting activities are also numerous.

The work and games, the traditions and customs, the jokes and debates-all are parts of students 'life there.

It should be mentioned that not many children from the working class families are able to receive the higher education as the fees are very high. Besides that special fees are taken for books, for laboratory works, exams and so on.

Contradiction and Change in British Higher Education

British Higher education covers a complex diversity of institutions, courses and qualifications. This is because its development has been full of contradiction, haphazard changes and half-measures. It can be best understood by considering the conflicting pressures of elitist traditions on the one hand and, on the other, the increasing popular demand for education and the need of the economy for properly qualified manpower.

Background to the Present Contradictions

Well into the 1950s, there was only one major route to academic studies: from public and grammar schools to university, for a small privileged group of young people.

One is struck by the contradiction between the restricted character of British higher education and the fact that it was in Britain that a high level of industrial advance was a first achieved.

In the first industrial revolution brilliant inventions were put into practice using relatively simple technology and large numbers of workers with a low level of training. This ensured high profits for a long period, and adaptation to the changing needs of advancing technology, which required a higher level of training, was low. Moreover, the rising business class in the late 18th century was primarily interested in the universities for their elitist traditions, these being seen as a help in acquiring a share in the established culture and ideological power of the aristocracy.

Up to the mid-19th century, higher education meant just the two universities of Oxford and Cambridge, four Scottish universities and finally the universities of Durham and London. The dominant features were those developed at Oxford and Cambridge, by which others were subsequently influenced.

Students lived and worked for the most part in the secluded atmosphere of the colleges and had close social contact with senior staff. In addition to lectures, every undergraduate attended tutorials, getting the utmost individual attention and assistance in his studies from his tutor. The effect was to strengthen the impact on students of the basic ideas and assumptions of the ruling class. Training in self-expression played a significant part, as did the emphasis on classics, the rigor of academic study in a specialised field, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and the striving for academic status. The young graduate went on to an academic career, or entered the profession or government service.

From the mid-19th century onwards, however, alongside this elitist pattern of studies, pressure grew for a broader provision of higher education. The sharpening competition with other industrialised countries from the mid-19th century onwards increased the need for trained technologists. Moreover, there was growing popular demand for higher education. New initiatives were clearly called for.

By the end of the 19th century a number of new colleges had been established in the big industrial cities, later to become the civic (or "redbrick") universities (for example Birmingham and Manchester).

In the same period other institution developed outside the university sector, often starting as evening institutes for young workers. By the mid-20th century a number of these were to provide higher-level studies as well, including courses leading to academic degrees awarded externally by London University. This sector of technical colleges and other institutions, also called "further education", had a strong vocational tradition that was to prove important for later developments. It remained inferior however to universities in material standards and social esteem.

Another growing section was teacher training. These colleges, many having a church background, also remained poor relations of the universities.

Altogether, until the mid-20th century, advance in higher education was slow, and the elitist traditions of the universities continued to dominate.

The 1960s-Decade of Expansion

The Labor government in office


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