It probably doesn’t mean anything to those who didn’t live through it, but WonkHE reminds us that’s it is 25 years since the end to the university/polytechnic divide in the UK
I started my career in a polytechnic and have mixed feelings. I think there were positive aspects to polytechnic education when it worked well. It could have a positive focus on the vocational, which was popular with students but often misunderstood by the institution. I was the programme director for the BTEC programmes in Business. There was a tendency for everyone to assume that students did HND’s because they couldn’t get into a degree course, but in a couple of years when managers noticed that in clearing the entry requirements for the degree had fallen below that of the HND and wrote to students offering a switch they were surprised when the majority said no – but they never learnt. The students had a more positive view of the courses, fortunately shared by the majority of the staff who taught on them. But it was an interesting microcosm of the fundamental problem of parity of esteem of vocational education. While you can argue the existence of the divide continued that problem, I think the end of the divide did nothing to move us forward.
There was a specific form of teaching which we did well – related to Boyer’s Scholarship of Application, although again the institution (or at least managers) didn’t recognise it. We taught student’s how to apply academic knowledge. As I say it wasn’t recognised enough. I inherited a couple of courses on Work Psychology and an introduction to psychology for accountancy, both were unexciting and irrelevant. I managed to give them a focus on how to apply psychology in business/accountancy and the students got engaged. It also gave me a different perspective on the academic subject.
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