Thursday, 9 February 2012

College Funding



For the past few weeks hardly a day has gone by when college funding has not been in the Scottish MSM headlines. There's seldom an 'expert' mentions quality or course suitability only money.  Why should they when the cry for more funds is a much easier lobbying tactic and the public know that when they hear any expert mentioning a lack of funds then it must be true.

In the last 25 years I've learned a wee bit about colleges. Like all public education providers bums-on-seats feature highly and quality takes a shadowy place behind, along with courses which are relative to today's working environments.  Many colleges have closed their (varied) engineering sections because, not only were they expensive to maintain, but the courses required a standard of commitment many weren't prepared to give. Money is given for bums on seats and not for the quality of student who exits the doors for the last time.  Gradually over the years income has taken precedence over substance.

Surely if this was not true then, in the last 25 years there should have been a greater number of more qualified students available on the jobs market?  I'm not talking about graduates particularly, but universities don't escape this criticism by providing, what is seen by many, as easier courses - just to fill their quotas and thus collect the financial rewards.

The latest fashion is for school children to be taught the Curriculum for Excellence, although the Rector of Scotland's second most successful school is not impressed.

''There is a clear feeling now that we are sleepwalking into a possible disaster from which it may take generations to recover. An exaggeration? I wish.

Dr Halliday is highly respected within education circles and his comments may have been heeded by Mike Russell who intends to have talks with the EIS.  Yes, Dundee High School is a independent school which has the choice of ignoring parts of the CfE which their Rector feels will disadvantage his pupils, but he also contributes a great deal to the state sector - particularly in Dundee.  When secondary schools in Dundee consisted of four state senior academies and Dundee High (before comprehensives), the competition was fierce. Since the introduction of comprehensive schooling standards have slipped in state schools and in recent years Dundee High's entry applications have risen far beyond expectations.

Why should that be?  Comprehensive schooling has not been a success. The brightest manage and the least able are given substantial personal attention. The middle children are the meat in the sandwich and they learn to sink or swim.

Colleges have been forced to take on roles in which comprehensives have failed, such as courses in basic English and maths, which leaves less money for courses which are relevant to today's job markets.

Children are forced, by law, to stay in school until they are 16, yet only this week Andy Murray expressed his view: "I had to make a big decision when I was 14 or 15, as I didn't really want to sit in a classroom."  He had a choice to move abroad to further his education at a young age, but few young people have that choice.  They're forced to sit in a classroom for two or three years, when they know what they want to do but we don't provide the educational facilities for them to do it.

Repeatedly I've witnessed how young folk's enthusiasm has been sapped because we do not provide adequate vocational training early enough in the education process. In comparison with many other European countries our vocational training facilities are extremely poor.

If we're not providing the educational environment to stimulate young folk and instead offering them the easy options such as media studies etc., is it any wonder so many are unemployed?

The private sector provides 80% of work in the UK and they create the wealth of these islands. They know the skills required for their relevant businesses.  Surely it's time further and higher education establishments were rewarded financially for producing students who were fit for the work place rather than paid for the numbers who passed through their hallowed portals?

Use money to built vocational educational units which offer the best quality courses and stop the ridiculous scenario of colleges, within a bus ride of each other, offering the same or very similar subjects. Colleges should aim to be a centre of excellence for specific subjects instead of being average providers of a multitude of subjects. Allow school pupils to leave school at 14 to undertake more intensive study in their preferred vocational subjects.

That would be a win-win-win situation. Students would benefit because they would have more chance of gaining employment upon the successful completion of their courses, businesses would benefit because they would have employees skilled for work and the taxpayers would benefit because they would know their money had been well spent.

If we don't do something radical about education, another generation will be denied the chance to excel no matter how much money we continue to invest unwisely.

16 comments:

Weekend Yachtsman said...

You're right, but I don't agree that colleges within a bus ride of each other, offering similar subjects, constitutes "a ridiculous scenario".

Competition is the proven best way to raise standards, as you acknowledge yourself earlier in the very same post, with reference to secondary schools in Dundee.

Totally agree on the school leaving age though; it should be 14 as long as basic literacy and numeracy are attained by then , and on the condition that genuine vocational training is undertaken on leaving school. By "genuine" I mean not stacking shelves for £2.50 an hour or "McApprenticeships" which lead to nothing recognisable and transferable.

We are wasting young peoples' lives by making them sit in schoolrooms doing academic stuff they cannot manage and do not care about, and what's more we are spoiling the experience for those who can and do.

My own sons could not wait to get to the end of fourth year "because then the neds will all be gone and we might be able to hear what the teachers are saying".

Surreptitious Evil said...

Scotland's second most successful school? Bloody hell, times have changed.

Back in the days of Miss Knight, GC Stewart, Dally Ally and the various others that were in charge of us, it was ideal for getting the 'slightly thicker than their parents had hoped' kids of Angus farmers and the Dundee professional community into a decent university.

Or if that failed, into Dundee Uni.

It had occasional pretentions to getting kids into Oxbridge, which is why I banged out as soon as was practical - I wasn't going spend another year being hectored about why I wanted to go to Uni in Scotland, for the sake of spending a year less at Uni (back in the days when if you had SYS, you could bounce in to 2nd Year.)

BTW - young Master S-E, currently in 3rd year, entirely agrees with WY's sons. No, he isn't at the High. Although we did have the odd ned. Admittedly these were DHS neds so one of them now works at a company making soft toys and the other is in IT :)

Schola clara, etc, etc

pa_broon74 said...

The thing is though...

Competition between colleges is a doouble edged sword, its also an oxymoronic idea insofar as, it doesn't encourage colleges to offer courses that are pertinent to business but offer courses pertinent to what sells, not the same thing at all.

If its just bums on seats then the competition aspect is harmful (which is what I think Rosa meant.) However, if the more useful courses were funded at a higher level than say, the fuzzy media study courses, then that kind of competition could be healthy.

This tory idea that competition is always good isn't always the case, it accounts for many of the mistakes being made these days, the idea needs to be deployed wisely or we end up doing damage.

subrosa said...

The problem is WY competition in colleges isn't raising standards, it's doing the opposite. It's well known which college offers the easier course in the same subject but with the mass of titles given to qualifications these days, it's hard to work out what is what.

Schools at least stick to a small qualification base.

I missed that out of the post and thanks for pointing it out. No child should be allowed to leave primary without being numerate and literate.

Your sons aren't the only youngsters I've heard of who feel that way. It's sad isn't it. Nobody's happy with so much time wasted.

subrosa said...

Aye SE, Dundee High is quite different from your day when it was more common for money to buy 'status'.

There's the difference. DHS neds are directed down a positive path. Others aren't so lucky and have to stick it out until 16. I've met some of them during my working life and not all were 'bad' - just bored and lacking in ambition.

It's amazing how many spent their last year at school just watching videos and literally being sidelined. I could understand why but if we had a separate educational establishment for them that would help. I'm sure of it.

subrosa said...

Good point pa_broon. Too many colleges have to offer courses in subjects which should have been studied in schools too. Years ago just the odd person went to college to get a GCSE in English or arithmetic, now there are hundreds.

How many jobs are there in the media though? Colleges should be offering courses related to employment.

Mind you, the private sector should be far more involved in colleges and higher education in general. I used to think the reason it wasn't was down to the college heid bummers keeping them out because 'it wasn't their business' but now I wonder.

Feifan Chang said...

Education for all is the right of every one.
The education is the basic key for the development of any nation / country .
With out education no revolution can be successful to build the nation.

subrosa said...

Couldn't agree more Feifan, but it's the way in which education is provided which marks its successes or failures.

Brian said...

Rosie,
You've hit the nail on the head (NVQ Level 2 Carpentry)re employers and college courses. What's needed is for some bright spark at the college to liaise with employers/JobCentrePlus to get job market information on vacancies in the local area(such information was collated when I worked in a JobCentre) so that courses can be given a "star rating" for job availability. Get local employers and JobCentrePlus in to advise on improving job-readiness of students - reintroduce EMA but make it dependent on consistently meeting performance targets just like wages.

RMcGeddon said...

If you read some of the textbooks it's depressing reading all the global warming rubbish and other dumbed down nonsense.

Jim Sillars of the SNP wrote a good article in 'The Scotsman' yesterday about the global warming scam.
Maybe the tide is turning and the SNP are starting to wake up ?

http://www.scotsman.com/news/cartoon/jim_sillars_climate_con_will_feel_a_chill_wind_1_2103685?commentspage=0

subrosa said...

Brian, I wrote a longish reply but it's vanished into the ether.

Employers are fed up trying to be heard. Politicians and the education public services don't listen to them.

subrosa said...

Brian, I think the SNP has too much invested in the climate scam to back down. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Brian said...

Rosie,
No, I'm Spartacus! :)

Little Michael Gove paid no attention to JCB, RR, Siemens etc when he cut the value of the Engineering Diploma:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/9051556/Engineering-diploma-downgraded-in-snub-to-business-leaders.html

Of course it's worth 5 GCSEs, look at some of them:
http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_GCSE_subjects

Weekend Yachtsman said...

I sit corrected to an extent: if it's a race to the bottom based on price, then yes more colleges with ever-lower standards will be a bad thing.

My assertion about competition is based on a hope that the students can discern quality; maybe they can't, and they just rely on the fact that it's an HND or whatever, so it must be the same as all the others.

Maybe this is another result of the modern curse of credentialism.

Debasing qualifications is as pernicious as debasing the currency, and the modern State does both with equal relish.

subrosa said...

Don't get me started on NVQs Brian! That was the start of the dumbing down of education.

subrosa said...

Sadly I doubt if students can identify quality WY and colleges seldom have reputations for excellence is certain subjects do they? That's because they sell the courses they have to fill rather than those which are particularly relevant to a student's prospects for work. It's all about money to them.

Excellent last paragraph - says it all.

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