Jul 242010

Some geezer called Digby Jones has been pontificating about how Universities should be looking at offering more vocational qualifications. Fair enough; anyone no matter how ignorant is perfectly free to ramble on about anything they want to. But should we pay attention ?

Well the idea of offering vocational qualifications is such a great idea that Universities have been doing it for centuries – they call it the “degree”. One of the first degrees ever offered at any of the truly old Universities was a subject called Theology, which doesn’t sound especially vocational now (although it is – what qualifications do you think are useful for Bishops?), but was very vocational at the time. The Church (of Rome then) was desperate for more educated priests – there are records of Bishops insisting that uneducated priests be sent to various Universities to get a basic education, and of course the career prospects for an educated man at the time were pretty much limited to the Church or the Law. And of course Universities offered degrees in Law too.

It is easy to see how the “hard” subjects such as science, engineering, geology, etc. are very much vocational, but all of the so called “soft” subjects are very much vocational too. In some cases the vocational aspect of degrees such as history, or philosophy are not immediately of use to business but that does not make them any less vocational (historians need job training too!), or any less valuable.

And more than that, a degree is about teaching someone to think and study on their own, and  work on projects with other people. Are these not skills that businesses need ?

Our friend Digby insists that Universities should be talking to businesses about what subjects they should be teaching students to assist business. Well first of all, business is not the only type of organisation to take on graduates – Universities have a responsibility to train students going into government, the church, and Universities too! Secondly Universities are perfectly willing to talk to businesses about the degrees they offer.

Perhaps it should be businesses who should be a little more pro-active about talking to Universities!

If Digby Jones were to come up with a half decent degree proposal, he would probably find any number of academics knocking on his door ready to turn it into a course. And if the market finds it good, he will find students eager to sign up and qualify as “Digby clones”.

Yes the free market is at work within the University sector (complete with government interference) – students choose which degree courses they want; popular courses survive and prosper and unpopular ones wither and eventually disappear. One of the long running criticisms of Universities is that they do not turn out enough good scientists and engineers; well to fix that we need to make the students opt to go for those degrees.

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