Anthony Haynes writes: Last month the Secretary of State for Education in England presented to parliament a review (now popularly referred to as the Augar Review) produced by an independent panel chaired by Dr Philip Augar.
Panel-produced reviews can tend towards blandness, but to their credit this panel, which comprised some genuine authorities — people such as Professor Sir Ivor Crewe and Professor the Baroness Alison Wolf know their onions — have produced a sharply pointed set of recommendations.
I don’t myself agree with all of the recommendations (and I should make clear that I write here in a personal capacity, rather than as a spokesperson for FJ Wilson Talent Services): in fact, I disagree with much of what they say about the free market and funding. But it’s the kind of review that merits constructive criticism — that is to say, even where one disagrees with the findings, it is worth taking issue with.
Over a third of a century ago, when I was studying education formally, I read a history of education that argued that in this country technical and vocational education in general, and further education in particular, had long been the poor partners in education.
It was true then; it continued to be true; and it’s true now. One of the strengths of the report is that this neglect emerges clearly, with readily understood numbers attached.
The review’s ‘core message’ is that ‘the disparity between the 50 per cent of young people attending higher education and the other 50 per cent who do not has to be addressed. Doing so is a matter of fairness and equity and is likely to bring considerable social and economic benefits to individuals and the country at large’.
The review shows how rebalancing the sector could benefit individual students, produce social benefits (including stimulus to local and national economies), whilst reducing per student expenditure (higher education tending to be much more expensive than further education).
What’s not to like?
But I should advance one criticism. Time and time whilst reading the review — when, for example, I read ‘England needs a stronger technical and vocational education system at sub-degree levels to meet the structural skills shortages that are in all probability contributing to the UK’s weak productivity performance’ — I found myself thinking ‘You don’t say! Whoever would have guessed?’
I think pretty well everybody I discuss such matters with knows such things perfectly already and the implication that this is news to somebody — policy-makers and politicians, presumably, most of whom have come up through a different route — is seriously concerning.
To the people I speak to in the real world the question is simply, ‘How have we let this happen and why can’t we just get on an put it right?’
On which note, the word that, paradoxically, both goes unspoken yet shouts from this report, is
In the 1990s the government incentivised polys to convert themselves into universities. Why not now incentivise some of our them to move the other way?