A Crisis in British Education

Before I start, I want to define a couple of things for our broadly international forum, so that we understand each other when I start using acronyms and making assumptions about people's knowledge of the British educational system.
This is going to directly affect me for the rest of my life!
College is NOT the same as university in the UK. This is the most basic thing that I think most people probably understand, but it's pretty crucial to understanding the whole debate College refers to your time in Year 12/Year 13 between the ages of about 16-19, depending on your course. University is the same as American college/university, only most courses last 3 years (unless you're having a year abroad) and you MUST select your course before you apply: it is rare to switch courses mid-university.

A-Levels and AS-Levels: Fully "General Certificate of Education, Advanced Level", and "General Certificate of Education, Advanced Subsidiary Level". One takes AS Levels at 17 years of age/in Year 12, usually at a dedicated sixth-form college (sixth form is a term referring to the Year 12/Year 13 or A-Level years of school) or at the same school you took your secondary level certificates (GCSEs) at the end of Year 11.
AS-Levels are half of an A-Level. A-Levels are taken the next year at the age of 18/in Year 13. Most students select 4 subjects to take to AS-Level (although you can take more, this is discouraged) and then drop a subject to continue to A-Level with three subjects. Your grades in these subjects are used to decide entry to university, along with a personal statement and recommendation from your school, plus occasionally musical or sports achievement. Applications are made in the September at the beginning of your second year of college up to January, with applicants to Oxbridge (Cambridge/Oxford) having to apply by October the 15th. Art students can wait until March.

For example: I took 5 AS-Levels (on reflection, it probably was a bit too much work; you don't get any study time during school) - Economics, French, Government and Politics, English Literature and History. Next year I'm dropping English Literature to continue with the other 4.

UCAS is the central university application process for every university in the UK. To apply to university, one must apply through UCAS. In a way this makes things easier, because you have just one application to fill out. Unfortunately, it means you cannot tailor your application to a particular university you really want to get into in case you don't get in and then you get rejected from your back-ups because of your enthusiasm for your first choice.

University "offers" are sent out between January and April. When you are given an offer by a university for a place, they tell you what grades you have to achieve in your A-levels at the end of the academic year: for a Cambridge student, it might be A*AA; for a slightly less prestigious university like Southampton, it could be ABB, or even lower, depending on how much they liked you at interview or in your personal statement. This is also dependent on course: a law student is almost always offered AAA, a high demand on any student; someone intending to do film studies will probably not be placed under such duress. The final exams take place in June and July.

"Clearing" is a horrific word for a college student: it refers to the process by which students that did not achieve their offered grade find an alternate spot at a university that still has open spaces on it's courses. Needless to say, it's a mad, frantic scrap for these places at the top 20 schools, which disappear on the first day of clearing - the day results are released. This day was Thursday the 19th August this year.

----------------

What worries me as a British student who will be applying to university in October is the sheer amount of competition and sense of desperation now emanating from the whole process of university application. The British government under the Labour Party has engaged in a systematic overhaul of the university system in what they considered the interests of social equality, and as a result we now have far too many students without the necessary educational background pursuing university places because they've been told all their lives that that is the only acceptable educational endgame for them. Unfortunately, people's educational and vocational futures have been treated as a political weapon: a way for the government to say "look, we've created a fair and equal society for all, look at all these people in university!"

The problem is that when you give yourselves a target of getting 50% of the youth population of your nation into university, you fundamentally change the way the job market works. When this coincides with an economic crash, you have the ingredients for an utter disaster. People who were told that university was the way to get into a great job have found that just about everybody else going for every job - and there are a lot of people going for every job - has the same education level as them. Employers can no longer differentiate between graduates, and often demand experience which is really, really difficult to acquire at this stage. Having a degree means nothing.

At the first stage, students are facing this problem. Upon applying to university, we are told that we need a million extra-curriculars, volunteer work and another hundred different ways to differentiate ourselves (I'm lucky in that I already accidentally took a gap year in America where I did some great preparatory stuff for the course I want to take) to overwhelmed admissions tutors who cannot identify great candidates because of grade inflation - 27% of A-level students achieved an A or A* grade this year. Grade inflation has sprung from another Labour Party policy: dictation of the curriculum at the highest level of government and tight regulation of schools has resulted in teachers literally teaching to the test. At this point, do these tests demonstrate anything apart from a teacher's ability to read a syllabus?

There are many things I've touched on here that bother me greatly about our educational system and that I could easily rant about at length, but I feel I was already launching into TL;DR territory with my opening definitions If any of you go to websites like www.guardian.co.uk or www.economist.com and check out the education articles on there, you'll see a much more specialised debate.

This is going to directly affect me for the rest of my life! I want you to argue with me and tell me I'm wrong, tell me I'm participating in the media's hyperbole, tell me I've got the Labour Party and their intentions all wrong. Or alternatively, confirm all my worst suspicions. I just want to hear something that isn't the British tabloid press' echo chamber.

I've been following this clearing scramble with some interest. I'm a veteran of the UK education system, though I never had to go through clearing. My second choice was an unconditional and I ended up making my first choice (much to the surprise of my school).

I took 5 'A' levels, ending up with 2 'A's and 3 'B's. At the time this was viewed as exceptional. Maybe not Oxbridge level, but pretty damn good.

Then I read about this:

27% of A-level students achieved an A or A* grade this year

to get an A* grade, you need to achieve a 90% mark. That so many candidates scored so highly is worrisome, for all the reasons you mention. I'm also very confused.

My first job as a graduate was working in a software house where we implemented a system to administer the GCSE examinations. These were the new replacement for the old GCE and CSE examinations. One of my tasks was working on the grading system. This program took all the raw grades and all the normalizing regrades (all the examiners had some of their graded papers regraded by other examiners to provide a normalization process) and converted them into a grade (A - E). These grades were distributed on a bell curve. A's were given out to the top 10 - 15% (if I recall correctly).

So this is telling me that grades have been inflated, allowing far more top grades to be given, thus reducing their value.

This is going to directly affect me for the rest of my life! I want you to argue with me and tell me I'm wrong, tell me I'm participating in the media's hyperbole, tell me I've got the Labour Party and their intentions all wrong. Or alternatively, confirm all my worst suspicions. I just want to hear something that isn't the British tabloid press' echo chamber.

I don't think so. Once you've got your first job under your belt with a few years experience, your grades at 'A' level are irrelevant. I'd go further and say once you're in a degree program, they become irrelevant. Unless, that is, you drop out of your program. Then they become super-relevant again.

Seems to me that what you are describing is the American higher education system.

iaintgotnopants wrote:
Seems to me that what you are describing is the American higher education system.

Very true. Local school districts have eviscerated their technical training curricula in favor of all-out college (university) prep. My brother-in-law loves cars, and all he wanted to do was take some auto mechanics classes. None of the high schools (grades 9-12 in most places) within a 50 mile radius even have auto shop classes any more. Carpentry, welding or metal shop, and other classes that were offered when I was growing up 20+ years ago are long gone. Some people aren't cut out for a university education, and forcing everyone into that mold just does them a disservice and robs the nation of a skilled blue-collar workforce.

Well, I'm a bit older, so when I did this there was a separate UCCA (for universities) and PCAS (for polytechnics doing more vocational courses) application forms. I have the same impressions as you of the current system, I'm afraid. I've thought for a while that university doesn't make vocational sense for a lot of students doing it. In my view, if a degree course isn't having a direct benefit on your ability to do your job, it doesn't make sense to find yourself with at 21 with no work experience and tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt.

Specifically in the job I do, which is software engineering, degree courses are not as useful as merely doing the job for 3 years. An intelligent person that's willing to buy and read their own books about software engineering doing the job for 3 years will be more practically useful to most employers than one who has been to university and done a compsci course. There are exceptions, and sometimes I am required to apply higher maths or discrete control theory or something that I got from my uni course, but this is rare, and you only need 1-2 people in a larger team of general engineers to do this stuff. and bear in mind that once you're 3-5 years out of university nobody gives a sh*t which modules you chose at university anyway. But as you might expect, an 18 year old with good A-Levels would probably have difficulty getting a junior programming job. You're outside the normal box of candidates, and it would take a perceptive person to pick it out of a stack of 50 CVs. However, I can't help thinking that if you spent a year with a load of programming books, taught yourself a few languages and used them in anger to produce a few pieces of software that you could show an interviewer, a driven person could find themselvesat 21 earning more money and with less debt than a person with a first in compsci who's great at Modula-2, Fortran 77 and Pascal or something. Not one iota of their course is relevant, and all their course proves is that they're clever and like computers.

We had the ideal training method for a lot of engineering jobs back in the day. They were called apprenticeships.

In any case, arguably someone foregoing a degree and learning to be a plumber will make more money these days anyway.

Whilst the labour party are obviously to blame for this mess, we have to point the finger at ourselves too. The way to improve the level of education and the university system would have been to increase and improve student grants, so that poor, bright students could still go to university. As an electorate, we're unwilling to pay higher taxes for better social services. We want better social services without our pay packets changing, and so we get sh*t like this.

VDOW

As someone who currently works in a HEI, and has worked in education for the best part of 20 years, allow me to deconstruct your points.

"The problem is that when you give yourselves a target of getting 50% of the youth population of your nation into university, you fundamentally change the way the job market works. When this coincides with an economic crash, you have the ingredients for an utter disaster. People who were told that university was the way to get into a great job have found that just about everybody else going for every job - and there are a lot of people going for every job - has the same education level as them. Employers can no longer differentiate between graduates, and often demand experience which is really, really difficult to acquire at this stage. Having a degree means nothing."

Incorrect. Firstly, there are already many other nations with a HE rate of more than 50%, which negates the idea that the target itself is the issue. Secondly, employers do not find themselves unable to differentiate between graduates - even the way in which an application form is written will do that for you, even before the interview. The employment market, in that respect, is not specifically changed by this, the situation in, say, 1991 or 1992 was just the same. The particpation rate topped out at 43%, by the way.

"Grade inflation has sprung from another Labour Party policy: dictation of the curriculum at the highest level of government and tight regulation of schools has resulted in teachers literally teaching to the test. At this point, do these tests demonstrate anything apart from a teacher's ability to read a syllabus?"

I'm not sure which issue of the Daily Telegraph you copied this from. The introduction of the centralised syllabus was designed to ensure that all students had an equal chance of success, as opposed to local variations. This has always existed, all that has happened over the last couple of decades is that the syllabi issued by the various exam boards have been standardised...before that it was well known that even in the same subject, the exams set by some boards were easier than others. The issue there is that universities knew this too, and thus tended to mentally discount the grades for some of them.

"This is going to directly affect me for the rest of my life! I want you to argue with me and tell me I'm wrong, tell me I'm participating in the media's hyperbole, tell me I've got the Labour Party and their intentions all wrong. Or alternatively, confirm all my worst suspicions. I just want to hear something that isn't the British tabloid press' echo chamber."

No it won't. Moggy's comments were spot on. However, allow me to suggest that blindly mouthing or printing ludicrous soundbites will affect your career, if you do it in the wrong place and time. It does not provide evidence of a capacity to analyse, evaluate and present a logical argument, which employers ARE interested in.

I'm also dubious about Dudley's - 'the Labour Party are obviously to blame'. Not only do you not provide any justification for this sentence, but you also significantly ignore the extent to which the universities themselves have approved of, colluded with and enjoyed the benefits of the change in emphasis. A significantly higher proportion of people from lower income backgrounds now attend university. Your point about student grants is also significantly disproved by the facts - this year's applications were the highest in history, and I would be loath to class Higher Ed as a 'social service'.

Oh, and we have thousands upon thousands of people training to become plumbers etc. They are at FE Colleges, doing exactly that.

I was calling the grant system to be a social service, in the sense of a tax-funded beneift for the less well-off, not HE generally. I was blaming the Labour Party for not having the balls to do something courageous about the problem I perceive, but reacting to the tabloids as usual, and doing what will get them criticized least.

How many of the student entering Uni now have a clear idea of what career they want to have, how the degree fits into that, and have done a cost-benefit analysis on how quickly they'll be able to pay off the loan based on expected pay rates? That's where the loans system would work best, giving everybody the option, rather than just the first N to qualify based on how much cash was in the grants pot. But I think they're going to Uni because that's what you do, and just don't think about paying off the loan. I think offering money to people probably not mature enough to understand what they're getting into isn't the best for them.

I don't think it's good for a society when massive numbers of students are doing unvocational degrees that they don't need to do and accruing lots of debt they didn't need to. I think I'm right in thinking that they can't even declare themselves bankrupt to get out of paying the loan. It'll cripple them financially for years afterwards.

My starting point is that things seem to have gone wrong. I'm happy to accept that I've got the wrong idea about why it happened and how to fix it, but something doesn't seem right. My perception is that the proportion getting high grades as increased, and that together with no short-term financial barriers to filter the truly dedicated it's devaluing the degree. Is Moggy right? Is it no longer splits on a bell curve? Are you saying that there isn't a problem, and it's all Daily Mail guff?

How are employers choosing students now? Is it based on which establishment you went to? Subjective opinion on the talky bits of the form? Whether they have the same interests as the interviewer? These are genuine questions, by the way. I'd love to be totally wrong, and it isn't my area of expertise.

bighoppa wrote:
iaintgotnopants wrote:
Seems to me that what you are describing is the American higher education system.

Very true. Local school districts have eviscerated their technical training curricula in favor of all-out college (university) prep. My brother-in-law loves cars, and all he wanted to do was take some auto mechanics classes. None of the high schools (grades 9-12 in most places) within a 50 mile radius even have auto shop classes any more. Carpentry, welding or metal shop, and other classes that were offered when I was growing up 20+ years ago are long gone. Some people aren't cut out for a university education, and forcing everyone into that mold just does them a disservice and robs the nation of a skilled blue-collar workforce.

Why would he want to work with his hands when he could just hire a Mexican to do it for him?

The 'unvocational degrees' issue is a complete canard. If you are in a specific technical area, such as the sciences, employers couldn't give a toss about your undergraduate work - it'll be the quality of your masters-level research and potential that get you through the door.

For employers not looking for particular technical attributes, the key issue about your degree is not necessarily the subject matter, but the skills that you needed to employ to get there. I've got a history degree, but spent 14 years at one of the world's largest financial services firms. The skills that got me the job were initiative, independent thinking, analysis and synthesis of information, research capability, as well as ability to write clearly and concisely. These are the sort of skills that most arts degrees are meant to develop. Without wishing to seem like a grumpy old man, it is these sort of skills that appear to have declined most in the years I've been involved in education...students seem either less willing, or less able, to actual show some initiative than previously.

In my opinion, where education in the UK has gone wrong is at schools level. I worked in FE for a while, and the standard of school leavers was not impressive...all leavers are meant to be educated to level 2 by the age of 16, but the College I was at ended up having to deliver 40% of its courses to lvl 2 and then try to get the student a level 3 qualification all within 2 years, which leads one to wonder what the students were taught during the 11 years they were in the primary and secondary system.

Paleocon wrote:
bighoppa wrote:
iaintgotnopants wrote:
Seems to me that what you are describing is the American higher education system.

Very true. Local school districts have eviscerated their technical training curricula in favor of all-out college (university) prep. My brother-in-law loves cars, and all he wanted to do was take some auto mechanics classes. None of the high schools (grades 9-12 in most places) within a 50 mile radius even have auto shop classes any more. Carpentry, welding or metal shop, and other classes that were offered when I was growing up 20+ years ago are long gone. Some people aren't cut out for a university education, and forcing everyone into that mold just does them a disservice and robs the nation of a skilled blue-collar workforce.

Why would he want to work with his hands when he could just hire a Mexican to do it for him? ;)

He is a Mexican. Irony?

davet010, I think your contribution to the debate has been really helpful and absolutely what I wanted out of this thread because you're in such an interesting position to comment on it, but - with respect - drop the attitude. I can't help but take it personally when someone accuses me of "blindly mouthing" anything, or being "ludicrous", let alone copying my post out of the Daily Telegraph. I did not ask for your career advice, either I was reluctant initially to say how old I was because I suspected someone would take such an opportunity to talk down to me. Please do not do so.

I really don't want to have a silly cat-fight on the internet, but I'm afraid I couldn't let that slide. Perhaps it's worse when I just see it blankly printed on a screen, but I took what you said personally.

ANYWAY!

davet010 wrote:
For employers not looking for particular technical attributes, the key issue about your degree is not necessarily the subject matter, but the skills that you needed to employ to get there. I've got a history degree, but spent 14 years at one of the world's largest financial services firms. The skills that got me the job were initiative, independent thinking, analysis and synthesis of information, research capability, as well as ability to write clearly and concisely. These are the sort of skills that most arts degrees are meant to develop.

Yes, this is what I have been told. But by overloading our universities with people we're devaluing the education people come out with: large class sizes, less funding because of government cutbacks, and so we get the graduates you describe... the ones that have received a sub-standard education and aren't equipped for the workplace.

On the economic thing: I recognise that the economy has rearranged itself somewhat since British industry has mostly disappeared, especially in mining for example. But do we need *this* many graduates?

Another question that springs to mind (these aren't necessarily aimed at anyone, just thoughts): does the "crisis" with university places this year that is being covered so extensively in the press represent a permanent contraction in the amount of places available at university in the future, or are we just having trouble because of the recession? I just wonder if this is a sea change that was motivated by political (the election) as well as economic factors, and this is just the uncomfortable adjusting period.

DudleySmith wrote:
Specifically in the job I do, which is software engineering, degree courses are not as useful as merely doing the job for 3 years. An intelligent person that's willing to buy and read their own books about software engineering doing the job for 3 years will be more practically useful to most employers than one who has been to university and done a compsci course. There are exceptions, and sometimes I am required to apply higher maths or discrete control theory or something that I got from my uni course, but this is rare, and you only need 1-2 people in a larger team of general engineers to do this stuff. and bear in mind that once you're 3-5 years out of university nobody gives a sh*t which modules you chose at university anyway. But as you might expect, an 18 year old with good A-Levels would probably have difficulty getting a junior programming job. You're outside the normal box of candidates, and it would take a perceptive person to pick it out of a stack of 50 CVs. However, I can't help thinking that if you spent a year with a load of programming books, taught yourself a few languages and used them in anger to produce a few pieces of software that you could show an interviewer, a driven person could find themselvesat 21 earning more money and with less debt than a person with a first in compsci who's great at Modula-2, Fortran 77 and Pascal or something. Not one iota of their course is relevant, and all their course proves is that they're clever and like computers.

My Dad basically told me the same thing: he works for a big computer security and software company as a quality assurance engineer, and he's just got a graduate moved onto his team. The guy got the job because he did a degree at university; that's pretty much the starting point to your application when you apply for a job at this firm. The problem is that the guy doesn't know what he's doing at all. He has a degree in something like "Business and Computing" or "Business and IT" (can't remember which), and he doesn't know a thing about how to look after a network (my Dad used to do network administration too) or how to test a program. This means my Dad has to spend a fair amount of time teaching him how to do his job and holding his hand through everything. Sure, you can say this is the fault of whoever hired him, but he clearly wasn't prepared adequately for the type of job he thought he was getting a degree for.

I think there's a whole lot of issues around training, employment and employment that are interwoven in this country that are far from ideal. There's a number of conflicts of interests that don't do any favours to the larger picture. One of the things that strikes me is that people leaving A-levels can't reliably get a job, so they're delaying their entry into the job market by taking a degree, and then changing the level of employment they're aiming for and their expectations at that level (and will likely have little real world experience or training), except they've taken a great debt to get there.

This is of course, assuming you're looking at a degree as a bargaining chip to better employment. I can't honestly say I feel ill will to anyone who takes a degree to further their knowledge in a topic they're interested in.

From my own experience in the early days of New Labour (uni 1999-2002) and due to my siblings both heading to uni, it was just a kind of automatic default choice for me. In addition to the job market improving, I guess what I'd like to see it better careers advice in schools, and more companies participating in training.

In terms of numbers, university places for Home/EU students will probably be frozen for the next 3 or 4 years. Each one costs the Treasury about 7-13k per annum depending on subject (albeit they will get some back eventually), and HEFCE have already indicated to HEI's that we can expect cuts of 25% over the next 5 years. There are two ways of achieving this.

1. Reduce the standard unit of resource per student but keep same numbers...unlikely, as we are already in the age of 'student as consumer', so if the student sees themselves getting a worse deal than before but their fees haven't dropped, they will whine even more than they do at the moment.

2. Cap the number of students at the current level - more likely, I feel. This might result in minor changes per institution, but those HEI's who had business models based on perpetual expansion will feel it worst, so in the main the post-1992 institutions will struggle as they are the ones who find it difficult to recruit overseas students to plug the gaps appearing in their income targets unless they are specialists in particular fields.

As for class sizes and contact team, this is part of a common fallacy among arts students that lectures are vital (the best description I've seen of them is 'the means by which the notes of one become the notes of many without going through the brains of either'). Interaction previously was more in the line of "here's a reading list, here's an essay title, see you next week", which then places the onus on you to do the research and then relate that to the essay given. Science subjects are a completely different animal, but as I said before, no one hoping to enter a technical scientific profession is likely to do so on the basis of an BSc unless it is at a relatively low level.

davet010 wrote:
In terms of numbers, university places for Home/EU students will probably be frozen for the next 3 or 4 years. Each one costs the Treasury about 7-13k per annum depending on subject (albeit they will get some back eventually), and HEFCE have already indicated to HEI's that we can expect cuts of 25% over the next 5 years. There are two ways of achieving this.

1. Reduce the standard unit of resource per student but keep same numbers...unlikely, as we are already in the age of 'student as consumer', so if the student sees themselves getting a worse deal than before but their fees haven't dropped, they will whine even more than they do at the moment.

2. Cap the number of students at the current level - more likely, I feel. This might result in minor changes per institution, but those HEI's who had business models based on perpetual expansion will feel it worst, so in the main the post-1992 institutions will struggle as they are the ones who find it difficult to recruit overseas students to plug the gaps appearing in their income targets unless they are specialists in particular fields.

As for class sizes and contact team, this is part of a common fallacy among arts students that lectures are vital (the best description I've seen of them is 'the means by which the notes of one become the notes of many without going through the brains of either'). Interaction previously was more in the line of "here's a reading list, here's an essay title, see you next week", which then places the onus on you to do the research and then relate that to the essay given. Science subjects are a completely different animal, but as I said before, no one hoping to enter a technical scientific profession is likely to do so on the basis of an BSc unless it is at a relatively low level.

I agree, it'll most likely be two, and as a moaning consumer student I agree that option 1 probably isn't even viable at this point...we would kick up such a fuss. I'm sort of aware it doesn't matter that much but it doesn't compute in my head that I have to pay so much money for a product with decreasing quality.

Of course, if top-up fees hadn't been introduced then it wouldn't be such a problem...;)

I think the concern about contact time comes from the more touchy-feely type teaching at the earlier stages of education: it's a bit of a shock to get told that your learning will now be from books and not guided in any concentrated way. For sure, it's a more adult and personal way to become educated, but it's scary. Additionally, the consumer student thing totally factors into this: "I can just go get this book myself and read it!"

davet010 wrote:
As for class sizes and contact team, this is part of a common fallacy among arts students that lectures are vital (the best description I've seen of them is 'the means by which the notes of one become the notes of many without going through the brains of either').

I would agree with this. My class size was 150. Everybody in the lecture room could see the board, hear the lecturer and take notes. I personally only went to a few (< 10) lectures in the three years I went to college. Notes copied from friends and text books - both recommended and additional - provided me with the raw grist I needed to mill.

Now number of students to an advisor is a more important metric. You need to have someone to talk about sticking points. Even if that person is a lowly grad student of TA.

That was engineering. Now I'm in art school and large class sizes (~20 per class) do reduce the quality of instruction and advice. This is for studio classes - 8 hours of painting/drawing/sculpting. Having elbow room, a good view of the model and a few minutes of the instructors time every hour is a lot more important to the quality of the experience than listening to the drone of fluid mechanics.

Your final point, Moggy, is echoed by a comment from other institutions close to where I am. The husband of a friend of mine is a professor of biology at a NW university, and tells us constantly of having to cram courses into labs. The problem, of course, is that the construction and maintenance of science facilities in particular is staggeringly expensive - a new engineering facility would cost you about £20m at present, so the pressure is on to make the maximum utility of facilities that are already there.

Impressed with your change from engineering to art school though

When I was interviewing graduates for a researchy, mathsy, softwarey post a few years back, my first question was to derive the linear regression algorithm. I regard this as basic A-level maths. Because it wasn't on the syllabus any more, very few of the candidates could do it, irrespective of the fact that it's pretty easy. I drew the diagram for them, even drew the line for epsilon(i), and I had to drag each one through, kicking and screaming. It was very disappointing. It gave me the strong impression that teachers did teach to the exam more than the subject.
I have to ask you Dave, whether you think what practical skills you learned from your history degree would have been worth 25k of debt? I get the impression you had those skills before you matriculated.

And:

davet010 wrote:
The 'unvocational degrees' issue is a complete canard. If you are in a specific technical area, such as the sciences, employers couldn't give a toss about your undergraduate work - it'll be the quality of your masters-level research and potential that get you through the door.

The quality of the masters-level research is worthless too, since it's impossible to gauge how much help they got from their supervisor. I don't care how well they do something irrelevant to the subject. For a mathsy job, I asked them simple maths questions and that sorted the wheat from the chaff. If it's a programming job, I asked them questions about programming.

And in my 4 year Electronic and Information Sciences course, I missed exactly 2 lectures, and we had ~12 a week. Half of those would have been in lecture theatres with >200 students. I won't say they weren't a bit of a brain dump, but as long as someone was asking questions of the lecturer, I felt they were all valuable. Most of the art students I knew did no lectures and did their essays the night before the deadline.

Mm, practical skills from my degree...welll, in no particular order, I would say something like this.

Research - Moving from 6th form to uni, for a history undergrad, was going from what were effectively lectures where you wrote down everything to 'book list+essay title = see you next week'. Thus a lot more onus was placed on you to decide how much of the list you wanted to use, then read them and structure your notes. That was developed at university.

Effective Writing - I can guarantee that the first essay turned in by every new student largely ignores the question and is more in the line of 'write down everything you have read this week', and gets you a red-ink fest. The art of fitting your new knowledge into the framework of the question is started at 6th form, then more developed here. You also have to learn to tailor your work to what you know of your own tutor - I studied a different period of history every term, which meant a different tutor, who differed wildly in what they actually wanted.

Effective Presentation and Defence - It's so long since I was at university that I actually had 1-1 tutorials, having handed in the essay the day before. if you are in that position, you had better know what you are on about, and why you have written what you did, because you are face to face with someone who knows considerably more about it than you do. If you can defend your arguments, then the session ends up as an exercise in getting the fine details and the extra things that take you toward the next level. If you can't, it's an exercise in patience and finding out where you went astray...I had a couple of them, and there is nowhere to hide. it's also a lesson in how to take criticism gracefully.

By the time you get to the final year, these lessons encourage the more able towards confidence in risk-taking. One of my third year courses was in International Relations, and the essay set was the old favourite 'When Did WW2 start'. So having assembled my information, I proceeded to write 3 pages...and then stopped. I then ripped them up, and rewote them around the idea that there was no such thing, just two simultaneous wars with one link. Obviously not the first time anyone has come up with that idea, but I got more out of that than just churning out the usual - and a better mark.

So, while I'm not sure that my actual knowledge of history gained me anything other than my own interest, the sorts of techniques used above I use almost every day while it work. Whether that's worth 25k that you probably won't be paying for 5 years is up to you, but I was talking to an old colleague who's now a director in the firm I worked for, and his attitude was that if you haven't got at least the beginnings of those sort of skills, then don't bother filling out the application form.

That's just my take on it, and from an non-scientist point of view.

As an American I have to agree with you about the dangers of pushing everyone to go to college (sorry that's American for university). I also wish my college degree was worth more. I graduated with a degree in International Studies and Communication, with a specialization in journalism. I worked hard, did internships at prestigious newspapers, and got top grades but I saw plenty of my classmates slide by. When I graduated I found my degree didn't really help me that much in the real world. About the only degree worth anything in America is an engineering degree (or a PhD in a scientific field). This is truly sad because there are plenty of people who are smart and motivated but just not cut out to be engineers.

On the plus side for Britian, don't you guys get to go to university for free? Most Americans have to take out the equivalent of buying a BMW in order to finance their education. That doesn't count the millions of American students who drop out after a few years and are left with no diploma but plenty of debt.

jdzappa wrote:
On the plus side for Britian, don't you guys get to go to university for free?
No. Most people end up with many thousands of debt.

Scratched wrote:
jdzappa wrote:
On the plus side for Britian, don't you guys get to go to university for free?
No. Most people end up with many thousands of debt.

We used to I think the government decided that it was unaffordable if there were going to be a lot more people going to university to continue to subsidise higher education so much, so we now have "top-up fees": it's still a lot cheaper than going to an American university - anywhere from £2000-£4000 plus accommodation and living expenses p/a.
Top-up fees are a fairly recent thing though - beyond "the last ten years" I can't remember when they were introduced and the google search bar is soooooo far away up there in the corner...;)

VDOWhoNeedsDD wrote:
Scratched wrote:
jdzappa wrote:
On the plus side for Britian, don't you guys get to go to university for free?
No. Most people end up with many thousands of debt.

We used to I think the government decided that it was unaffordable if there were going to be a lot more people going to university to continue to subsidise higher education so much, so we now have "top-up fees": it's still a lot cheaper than going to an American university - anywhere from £2000-£4000 plus accommodation and living expenses p/a.
Top-up fees are a fairly recent thing though - beyond "the last ten years" I can't remember when they were introduced and the google search bar is soooooo far away up there in the corner...;)

The average American public university tuition comes out to a little over $7000/year. Private colleges and universities are considerably higher (due to their not being subsidized by taxes). The average private institution tuition is about $26,000/year with many as high as $50,000 annually. By the time an American student has finished undergrad, they can expect to be carrying around $21,000 in college loans.

VDOWhoNeedsDD wrote:
Scratched wrote:
jdzappa wrote:
On the plus side for Britian, don't you guys get to go to university for free?
No. Most people end up with many thousands of debt.

We used to I think the government decided that it was unaffordable if there were going to be a lot more people going to university to continue to subsidise higher education so much, so we now have "top-up fees": it's still a lot cheaper than going to an American university - anywhere from £2000-£4000 plus accommodation and living expenses p/a.
Top-up fees are a fairly recent thing though - beyond "the last ten years" I can't remember when they were introduced and the google search bar is soooooo far away up there in the corner...;)

If I remember correctly, the £1,000 top up fee was introduced for academic year 1999-2000, primarily because the per capita funding was lagging so far behind the actual delivery cost (much as it does now for many universities). This was increased to a max of £3,000 in 2006, and is £3,295 for 2010-11.

Accomodation fees for the HEI that I'm at run at £4,000 for a 43 week period.

Christ almighty - are you sure you need that many units ? That sounds like an awful lot of money, but of course you'll be counted as an ELQ so you'll be paying full whack. Even so, the max fee we'd charge an overseas undergrad is £14,500 per annum, plus accommodation.

Yep. 22 classes at 3 units per class. It's pretty well laid out with a list of required and optional classes to take.

Paleocon wrote:
The average American public university tuition comes out to a little over $7000/year. Private colleges and universities are considerably higher (due to their not being subsidized by taxes). The average private institution tuition is about $26,000/year with many as high as $50,000 annually. By the time an American student has finished undergrad, they can expect to be carrying around $21,000 in college loans.

Private school. A full load of four classes / semester; 2 semesters/year; 3 units/class means 24 units/year - $19,200 / year.

How did you get away with being given money even though your Dad wouldn't release his financial data?

davet010 wrote:
Impressed with your change from engineering to art school though ;)

I should point out that I successfully completed my Mechanical Engineering degree at Imperial College (2:2), had a successful career in software engineering and only now am in Art School. Lest anyone thinks I couldn't hack the engineering

I'm taking a 2nd Bachelors program, so no liberal art classes, studio classes only.

As for costs, when I took my first degree, tuition was free. I had to pay for living expenses and text books. We had a means tested grant from the government. Thanks to my father refusing to give up financial data, I had a minimum grant - about $400/term. I was also sponsored by Rolls-Royce, which meant a further $625/term plus a well paying job over the summers. I ended up owing about $5,000 to the bank by the end of my degree.

EDIT: to add, the prices in the paragraph above are in GB Pounds

By comparison, my art degree is costing me $800/unit. To graduate I need 66 units. A full degree needs twice that - 132 units - for a tuition cost of $105,000. For an art degree!! Plus living expenses...

VDOWhoNeedsDD wrote:
How did you get away with being given money even though your Dad wouldn't release his financial data?

Well, a full grant was about 2,000 GB Pounds (GBP) a term, which had to last 12 weeks. Without the financial data, I was awarded a minimum grant - around 400 GBP. The remainder was supposed to be made up by my parents. Which it wasn't, so I ended up going overdrawn by about 5,000 GBP by the end of my degree.

I saw this and thought of this thread: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-...

England's exam system is "diseased" and "almost corrupt", says a former government adviser in a book on Labour's education policy.

A former director at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Mick Waters, says exam boards are conniving in the dumbing-down of school exams.

He also claims the boards profit from textbooks that help teachers with the answers to their own exam questions.

Having seen the list of contributors to this tome, it reads like a litany of bitter academics, second rate administrators and Tory policy apologists all desperate to pile on to the previous Government's educational policies. The 'getting easier' bit is a mantra of the right wing, most of whom are nostalgic for a time when you needed to do Latin, teachers could cane their pupils and the plebs knew their place and went to polytechnics, if at all.

Waters is heavily involved with the Curriculum Foundation, who appear to think that they can design a curriculum suitable for all institutions, though the blurb on their website doesn't give any ideas about how they will do that, or what sort of things they believe in.

The Browne Report, in digest.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-...

NOW the headline fits. It'll be watered down by the time this goes through Parliament, but it's a typically half-arsed effort...let's go for the American model while not acknowedging that the culture of the two nations with regard to funding and scholarships just for a start is vastly different.

I just love the logical fallacies within it. 'Let's cut T-Funding by 80%....increasing student numbers'. Somehow, I think not.

Good job for Clegg this came out after the LD conference, there'd have been blood on the walls otherwise.