The Meanings of Mass Higher Education

By Peter Scott | Go to book overview

as a result, novel academic programmes, course structures and learning strategies have been developed. The proportion of young people going on to higher education has risen from fewer than one in ten to almost a third. A social revolution has been accomplished. A political and administrative revolution, too. A unified system has been established in place of the former binary division between universities, their 'donnish dominion' still shielded by the University Grants Committee (UGC), and the new polytechnics only recently admitted — and only as second-class members — to the higher education club.

Yet, despite these rapid and radical changes in the 'public life' of higher education, the rhythms of its 'private life' are less regular. In its broad cultural intentions there seems to be an underlying continuity. Many universities and colleges still embrace notions of education, rooted in subtle and stealthy socialization and acculturation rather than explicit intellectual formation and skills development, which are recognizably élitist. Consequently they remain committed to a personal engagement between teachers and students, and to individualized (even charismatic) styles of scholarship and, less so, research, which appear to take little account of either the values or the imperatives of a mass system.

In the inner worlds of academic disciplines the high excitement of the Robbins era has arguably receded. Already two decades ago, the philistinism and provincialism of Britain's intellectual culture had been sloughed off. A proper 'sociology', in Perry Anderson's terms, had been established.1 The prefix 'socio' was launched on its ubiquitous ascent. The New Left's creative effects were accomplished, and perhaps exhausted, before a mass system was born. The old humanities, too, had abandoned their anti-intellectual gentility, the 'urbane trade' denounced by George Steiner, and begun powerfully to absorb the lessons of the new social sciences.2 Science, notably the biological sciences, had discovered a dynamic inter-disciplinarity. The prefix 'bio' was becoming as promiscuous as 'socio'. Professional education, its centre of gravity shifting from engineering to caring, had acknowledged its wider socio-political contexts and responsibilities. This academic openingup had occurred while higher education was still élitist, although liberally extended by the Robbins expansion.

The result is a disjunction, even a paradox. British higher education has become a mass system in its public structures, but remains an élite one in its private instincts. According to the linear sequence suggested by Martin Trow, it is undeniably a mass system. He defines élite systems as those which enrol up to 15 per cent of the age group; mass systems as those enrolling between 15 and 40 per cent; and universal systems as those which enrol more than 40 per cent.3 The current age participation index in British higher education is 32 per cent, which suggests that the system is more than half-way towards becoming a universal system. As American higher education includes the two-year community colleges, it is necessary to add in post-18 students in further education colleges to secure a fair comparison. So the true participation index is already nudging 40 per cent.

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The Meanings of Mass Higher Education
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Srhe and Open University Press Imprint ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • 2: Structure and Institutions 11
  • 3: State and Society 71
  • 4: Science and Culture 118
  • 5: Understanding Mass Higher Education 168
  • Notes 180
  • Index 190
  • The Society for Research into Higher Education 197
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