Monday, 24 November 2014

FE Colleges for vocational studies? A recipe for social inequality.

Yes indeed. Further pressure on FE Colleges to provide vocational degrees, reported in the Times Higher Ed.

Now I have no problems with vocational degrees, and I have no problems with FE Colleges providing higher education. There is even a certain logic to the idea that FE Colleges are more likely to have the specific resources needed for teaching vocational and technical subjects, and less likely to have the kind of library and journal resources better suited to more academic studies.

My problem with this is the way in which it generates a further class divide between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. FE Colleges are usually located in more deprived areas, and are driven by more vicious financial constraints than any other sector. FE Colleges suffer huge government cut backs. FE teachers are paid less than school teachers and students at FE Colleges (particularly HE students) are often there because they have no opportunities of going anywhere else (although you only have to look at the number of 1st class degrees we awarded at our graduation ceremony last Saturday to realise this is nothing to do with a lack of ability).

In other words, FE Colleges remains largely an underfunded sector aimed at those in society with limited opportunities. To suggest that such institutions should take the lead in vocational degree provision reinforces the sense of a clear division of labour. Being taught how to do a job is all these people are fit for, while those from more privileged backgrounds can go to a 'proper University' and study something like economics (like most MPs, and CEOs) and become a leader or a manager whose job it is to tell the more 'vocational' types what to do.

And the thing is, I don't really see the need for such a division any more. Open access is reducing the resources gap, and instead of pushing for greater divisions between HE providers, the government COULD focus on creating greater cooperation between institutions. My College, for example, has some amazing facilities for studying fashion or beauty therapy (as one glance at my dazzling good looks definitely doesn't bear testament to). With a wee bit of cooperation, couldn't Universities use such resources to teach vocational subjects themselves? In the same way, my College is yards away from a major University campus. With a wee bit of cooperation, could we not use their library resources for our academic subjects?

Again, I understand the logic of using FE Colleges for specialising in vocational studies, but to me it just seems like another mechanism for increasing social inequality.

The scary thought is that this may actually be the intention.