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Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead
"Courses are not actually preparing people for the world of work"
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Fashion designer, Wayne Hemingway
"The industry needs people who are qualified"
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Head of Industrial Society, Will Hutton
"There is a degree of intellectual snobbery in this"
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Chair Education Select Committee, Barry Sheerman MP
"We have some excellent degrees"
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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Woodhead defends degree criticisms
University students
Chris Woodhead says some degrees fail to prepare students for work
The chief inspector of schools in England, Chris Woodhead, has defended his criticisms of "vacuous" degree courses.

The head of the Office for Standards in Education has come under attack for his accusations that universities are devaluing higher education by offering "quasi-academic degrees".

Golf course management, pig enterprise management, knitwear and beauty therapy courses were cited as examples in an article by Mr Woodhead in the Sunday Times.

He said they added little or nothing to students' employment prospects, and questioned if many vocational courses were delivering what they claimed.

New degrees
Madonna Studies
Golf course management
Pig enterprise management
Beer making
Contemporary circus
Stand-up comedy
Beauty therapy

Standards should not be sacrificed to meet government targets to increase the number of undergraduates, he said.

Mr Woodhead's comments were met with a barrage of criticism from various camps.

Monica Hicks, spokeswoman for the Association of University Teachers, was reported as saying: "Everybody is entitled to their opinion but he has to answer the question as to what his knowledge base is or whether this is simply rank personal prejudice."

And on Monday's Today programme on BBC Radio 4, Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Education Select Committee, accused Mr Woodhead of "pouring scorn" onto "a large number of very good courses" which did lead to jobs.

'Universities are happy'

He also criticised Mr Woodhead for commenting on the issue in the first place, saying that "public servants should stick to what public servants are paid to do".

"I do get concerned when a public servant enters into a field where many other people are responsible, like the Quality Assurance Agency.

"Universities have a very good system of checking the quality of degrees and they are happy with the situation in an expanding and mass-based education, with the quality of the product."

Tony Higgins, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said: "Very few of the chief inspector of schools' statements are worth reading at the moment."

Chris Woodhead
Chris Woodhead is sceptical about what some courses on offer

Defending his position, Mr Woodhead told the Today programme: "What I am arguing is not that we don't want people who are trained in knitwear studies or pig enterprise management or golf course management, but rather whether the courses we have, have the proper balance between vocational training and a genuine coherent academic element.

"I feel that I have the perfectly legitimate right to comment on education, it seems to me sad that the response is defensive, that the response is to attack the messenger rather than to look at the issues we have in front of us.

"We have got to have in England a whole range of further and higher eduation courses from the most academic through to the most vocational.

"I am saying, do we have that proper range at present?"

'Integrity sacrificed'

In his article in the Sunday Times, Mr Woodhead wrote: "What is the point of students completing a course only to find that their degree adds little or nothing to their employment prospects?

"Vocational qualifications will be valued only when they are attractive to students and employers alike and when they lead to worthwhile employment.

"This simple truth has so far eluded politicians, who have sacrificed the integrity of vocational training on the altar of vacuous theoretical convolution.

Access to higher education must be widened to attract more students from disadvantaged backgrounds, said Mr Woodhead.

But he warned this should not be achieved by "quick fix" methods such as lowering entrance requirements, introducing quotas and offering universities financial incentives for admitting inner-city students.

"We spend 6bn a year on higher education. We need to be certain that undergraduate study is in the interests of the individuals applying to universities," he said.

No skills

His comments were reportedly backed by the head of policy at the Institute of Directors, Ruth Lea.

"Employers have given these degrees the real thumbs down," she said in the Sunday Times.

"They just shrug their shoulders and ask what so they mean and what have they learnt?

"What is worrying about many of these degrees is that they don't give specific skills and they are not even particularly academically rigorous."

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See also:

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A joke with qualifications
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