May 01, 2014

The Cult of university, Ctd


On BBC Radio 4's programme Zeitgesters, Will Gompertz, BBC Art Editor, meets cultural entrepreneurs who are shaping our lives. People who know what we want, even when we do not. The men and women whose impact goes beyond mere commerce, people who shape contemporary culture. On programme 3, Gompertz met Theaster Gates. A man with two degrees in urban planning (and a further one in religious studies), who worked for the city's Transport Authority, but now uses sculpture, installation and performance to bridge the gap between art and life. Will Gompertz travels to Chicago to meet the the artist who is using collectors' desire for his artworks (they sell for anything upwards of several hundred thousand dollars each) to transform the rundown Southside where he now lives. Theaster Gates said of vocational work:
"We have to make labour more skillful and more sensitive. We gotta bring dignity back. We have to assume that the entire world won't be a tech invested world and that the more we can create a skilled hand, we'll create new sectors of opportunity. Because the tech dude doesn't know how to change his plumbing. And so I don't think that there's a dignity issue in being a plumber. When I watch these guys sauter copper, I realise that they are much more sophisticated people than I am. Keeping water out of places were you don't want it is a big deal. For the roofer, for the plumber, for the electrician I'm paying these people 100s of thousands of dollars to do this work and these is no way I can argue with there value. [This goes deep with me, my dad was a roofer] and somebody who had a tremendous amount of dignity and who instilled an ethic around work that really is the pulse of how I work today."
This is similar to the art, artisan and maker movement inspired and driven by William Morris and John Ruskin at the end of the 19th Century. (Academic paper on them here.) 
On another programme on BBC Radio 4, You and Yours, presenter Winifred Robinson asked: 'Britain's apprenticeship revolution - is it delivering?' Before responding, it's important to note what the leading parties have said on the issue. George Osborne spoke of a:
"A Britain carried aloft by the march of the maker."
Nick Clegg said:
"We're very good at celebrating academic qualifications, we need to be just as good as celebrating and putting on the same pedestal, vocational qualifications."
Ed Miliband said:
"We can't be a country where vocational qualifications are seen as second class. They are a real route to apprenticeships and jobs. They can be as valuable for our young people as a university degree. We need to make it so."
(You can read what Michael Gove and skills minister Matthew Hancock have said here. Read Erica Buist on the university contradiction here. My post on students being short-changed here. My post on the youth culture that celebrates failure and being dumb here.)

 
Jasmine Cawkwell (@jasminecawk) joined Gordons law firm as an apprentice at 17. Asked by Winifred if it was the right decision, Jasmine said absolutely. 
"The opportunity I've been given compared to some of my friends who are at university with law - they're really struggling, struggling to get work experience week, to have anything on their CV, and I've got now 2 and 1/2 years, coming up into my third year that I can put on my CV. The work I'm getting is equivalent to the trainees that I'm working alongside and that really is all that matters, the clients you work for, the colleagues you work with. All they value is the work you put in and your ethics, what skills you can bring. It doesn't really matter you don't have a degree once your actually in that place and create a reputation for yourself."
The BBC Berlin correspondent, Steve Evans spoke with Leonard Duricic of Bechstein Piano:
"If you only learn theory, it’s like learning to swim by reading a book - it’s not the same, so you need both."
The presenter said:
"In some companies there's a snobbery, if you work with your brain, if you go to university that's much better than working with your hands."
60% of school leavers in Germany do apprenticeships. There are 350 proscribed trades, from piano making to floristry. Pupils in Worley range in Manchester then spoke. One said:
"There is more of a push to go to university when it comes to parents and teachers, because it is still soon today as the best way forward."
Another said:
"There needs to be as much a push to apprenticeships as there is a push a push to go to university... And if that happens, it is going to make people think twice about their decision, and not putting all their eggs in one basket."
Tony Watts, career guidance consultant recently resigned from national career council over policy on career guidance. He said that, on policy, the government has been "disastrous". They made two promises. One, to improve quality, to an all age careers service. Two, to revitalise the professional status of career guidance. Both promises were "betrayed". He said the career guidance provision for young people has been "seriously destroyed."
Ofsted review here. Read also the Richard Review of apprenticeships here and follow up paper here. Tony then said:
"There has got to be a partnership between employers and schools and career professionals. No other country thinks otherwise, but unfortunately Michael Gove does."
His government wants career guidance in-house. Brian lightman said:
"Politicians need to say very clearly that there are different routes that young people can follow, they have said a lot about going too university, in particular very traditional academic courses, but they need to say a great deal more about these other routes. We then need to make sure there is a really good flow of information into schools and everywhere else young people go, to make sure young people are aware of all different opportunities there are... employers play an important role by going into schools and tell pupils about what they do."
Katja Hall of CBI said:
"The Vocational route is not second class."
Matthew Hancock then explained that the old goal was for 50% of young people to go to university. The new goal is that Every school leaver should have a choice between university and a high quality apprenticeship.

 Matt Yglesias wrote on Vox, 'Youth unemployment is a huge crisis, Germany may have the solution.' American figures on youth unemployment:

 
The Economist asked: "Why is England struggling to import the German apprenticeship model?" And responded:
"It turns out that good wishes and state cash are not enough to overcome several big differences between the two countries. In Germany powerful Chambers of Commerce police the terms and conditions of apprenticeships. England has no equivalent bodies, so standards vary wildly. Over 18,000 types of apprenticeship exist. In many cases, these are existing schemes rebranded by employers in order to benefit from government subsidy. Charlie Mullins, a plumbing magnate, says this “cynical degradation” weakens the reputation of rigorous apprenticeships."
Then noted:
"Britain has an acute skills gap, particularly in technical fields like engineering. Good workplace-based training can help close it."

 
In spite of the encouraging graph above, the Economist noted:
"Prominent evidence of this emerged two years ago, with the revelation that one in ten new English apprenticeships were created at a single supermarket chain, Morrisons. The firm was using a government subsidy to put 52,000 of its staff through six-month courses in operating cash tills and other basic tasks—hardly the technical training that ministers had in mind. This is not an isolated case. Most new apprenticeships are in the same category as the Morrisons scheme (level two, supposedly equivalent to the GCSE exams taken at 16). Fewer are at level three (equivalent to the school-leaving exams taken at 18) and hardly any are level four—equivalent to degrees."
David Way, Chief Executive of the National Apprenticeship Service, responded to Ofsted’s report, Ensuring Quality in Apprenticeships - A survey of subcontracted provision:
"Raising the quality of Apprenticeships remains a constant priority and is vital to ensuring that they are widely recognised as the gold standard of vocational learning."
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