As the preceding chapter demonstrated, the pedagogy of instrumental progressivism was pioneered amongst 16- to 19-year-olds in further education colleges, though it quickly made its way into schools where it reached a younger age group. In further education are found the attendant emphases of instrumental progressivism: a shift towards competencies and skills away from the primary concern with content; closer links between colleges and the world of work; a concern for project-based study rather than for discipline-led teaching; a heightened interest in experiential learning which accompanies the promotion of a student-centred approach; and all the rest.
Further education colleges and, more recently, schools have undoubtedly been the focus of instrumental progressivism. Nevertheless, its ethos and practices have penetrated deep into higher education since the early 1980s, most obviously in professional courses from the health care, business and engineering realms, but also reaching a very much wider range of degree and even postgraduate programmes.
So profound have been the changes in British higher education over the past two decades that they merit the separate discussion we present in this chapter. In the following we intend to trace the extension of instrumental progressivism into higher education, at once to develop this theme from the previous chapter, but at the same time to consider the meaning and significance of changes so deep-seated that they raise questions about the very conception and purposes of the university today.
The most visible development in higher education has been the massive increase in participation rates which have leapt from 12 per cent or so of 18-year-olds to in excess of 30 per cent in the space of twenty years (with an exceptionally rapid growth since the late 1980s). There are currently over 1.5 million students in higher education, compared with just over half a million in the late 1960s (which itself followed a period of what was then regarded as unprecedented growth after Robbins' advocacy of expansion), 1 an expansion that has been accompanied by a unit cost reduction (i.e. funding per student) of about 40 per cent over the past two decades. 2 This is