Thursday, 9 February 2012
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.