Conference Paper International Sociological Assocation Research Committee on Social Stratification and Mobility Conference
Higher Education Expansion and Reform: changing educational inequalities in Great Britain
23 Aug 2003
The British education system has been characterised as more diverse in its institutional arrangements and governance than that of most other European countries. Green (1990) argues that the fragmentation and voluntarism of the British system was due to the early modernisation of the British state. While other European nations developed education systems as an instrument of modernisation, the 19th century British education system developed within an already industrialised economy and in a context of competing stake-holders; churches, local authorities (local government at city or county level), employers and state. This division of interests was reflected in the two layers of administration of the system. Most funding came from the central government department responsible for education, which also set general policy objectives. However, the system (and funding) was administered at a lower tier, where different interests had control either directly as in the case of church schools, or indirectly through local authorities, where local interests were represented. This diversity was even more marked in the case of post-school education and training. The universities were autonomous, funded mainly by private endowment and fees in the case of the ancient universities and mainly by fees and industrial research in the case of civic universities (for a more detailed account see Halsey, 1992, Chapters 2 and 3 and Archer, 1979). Green and Lucas (1995) describe the pre-WWII training system as fragmented, work-based and employer-led. Employer commitment to training was low and varied both regionally and with economic circumstances. The main instrument of training was apprenticeship, with little formal learning being involved. The (part-time) education component of apprenticeships took place in technical colleges which were administered and funded through local authorities. One other form of training, teacher-training, took place in specialised colleges (Colleges of Education or Institutes of Higher Education) and involved two year full-time courses. The governance of these colleges was mixed, many of them having some association with a university board and/or with religious bodies as well as with representatives of local interests.