Does the UK have snobbish attitudes towards technical education?

Updated: May 6, 2021

By Chloe Olivia Sladden

Damian Hinds, Education Secretary, once said the nation was full of “technical education snobs” who saw university as the only way to gain a decent job. Although, where does this place universities?

Due to the dual training opportunities in Germany, where students learn with companies two-thirds of the time and only learn at college, a third of the time – a system held in high esteem, according to a Guardian article by Anne Fazackerley.

University of Hertfordshire Vice Chancellor, Quentin McKellar and Hamburg’s University of Technology’s Dutch President, Ed Brinksma about such vocational or technical training/education.

The University of Hertfordshire has a lot of industry expertise in its courses and has high employability with 96.6% of graduates in employment or further education after six months. The University hopes to become “the UK’s leading business-like university” and be known for this, on a global scale.

The Hamburg University of Technology has a empathise on engineering related subjects, and has pride in being “research led and entrepreneurial”. Also, 34% of the university’s graduates gained employment and 58% of graduates were studying for master’s degrees in 2016.

The article poses the question of whether snobbery in the UK is stopping us from having the same success with technical education, like Germany.

Ed Brinksma has said Hamburg encourages and promotes the dual training schemes at colleges to students. The article comments on how this shows: “the high regard for vocational training [that] leads to exemplary results in youth unemployment, as well as highly skilled workers”.

The article adds: “There is still some degree of social stratification” when it comes to university goers and similar education of their parents. It is much less in Germany than in the UK but is still there.

Quintin McKellar, however, is hopeful for vocational training future in the UK. He has said that: “totally different outlook” is gained from post-1992 university, which make up the newer universities in the UK.

He adds: “We’ve got these amazing schemes with big companies but if you speak to many politicians they say degree apprenticeships are just for people from disadvantaged backgrounds without proper attainment. And that’s just not true. They should be for people at all skill levels”.

The question of should people aim for university or college is also there. A post 18 education review from the prime minister is suggested to be pushing further education more.

Quentin McKellar has said: ”[he is] a huge advocate” for furthering education. He says college do well despite their lowering resources but fears what this could mean.

McKellar has said he is not against the 50/50 split between on the job and college courses and then universities. Although he feels strongly that it shouldn’t target universities but those who are not studying.

A rumoured leak from the review, as told in the; has suggested not allowing students with low grades to apply for University loans. McKellar said: “I think it would be a tragedy for the people who were no longer able to access higher education, but also a tragedy for the country”.

Back in Hamburg, Germany, it appears that the number of university students vs on the job/college students has slighted declined; but Ed Brinksma has said this hasn’t sparked any worries, and despite free tuition, there are no plans to discourage university students. He said, Germany used to have scholars when the university system wasn’t doing as well, but Germany has seen invested excellence into universities.

Brinksma commented that: “I think they are still supporting the growth of universities….We need a lot of skilled workers – but modern society needs higher education as well”.

He reflects on the future of more further education for more people, and asks: “Will the modern student just do one master’s degree? Or will they want to come back later and do a succession of courses as they need to learn different skills?”

This contrasts to the UK, where the Labour Party stopped people from doing this in 2007 and Brinksma, suggests in Germany too, that the reason for doing so is who would pay for it?

The article moves on to question whether apprenticeships are heading in the right direction.

In Germany, apprenticeships are separate to degrees at universities, but he says the UK has a good idea in experimenting with it. Brinksma says that: “I see the need to have a combination of working and studying because what you learnt a few years ago might be out of date by the time you get to a job,” he says. “And we are seeing that some companies are starting to care less about formal university degrees. Google isn’t so interested in degrees. They are hiring people with great programming skills, and that’s becoming more common.”

In the UK, McKellar has said: “It’s a chance to qualify without debt, to train for a job and get a good education while you do it, and you’re very employable at the end,” when asked about degree apprenticeships, as his university want to have them in all of their schools.

The concerns involve degree apprenticeships students, who may live at home and only be in university 20% but otherwise learning on the job, to feel part of the experience of university. This may include joining societies or becoming student ambassadors.

McKellar also wants these students to have skills that can be transferred, adding that: “These courses have been designed by employers, but the concern I have is that with technology advancing, many of these jobs will disappear. We want to make sure students are trained in things like critical thinking.”

When asked about their universities working with business, McKellar says it’s more about jobs, but business workers sit on all committees in all schools to ensure up to date learning and many students get experiential experiences.

“McKellar explains that this is especially important for students from less advantaged backgrounds, who might not have the connections that will help their middle-class classmates climb the career ladder.

“As well as delivering a set of skills our curriculums now also focus on delivering important attitudes for working life after university, such as professionalism, the ability to research something, and respect for others,” he adds.”

Brinksma supports McKellar’s ideas regarding the benefits of work placements, and usually ambitious or motivated students chose to do them. Extensive work periods are available on all degrees at Hamburg University and wants more students to take part in them.

These placements are usually sponsored by businesses, and students get more valuable chances at a job than a diploma for their training in the work placements.

Brinksma adds: “These people are hugely sought after by industry as they have a huge advantage that they already know how to tackle real-world issues”.

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