Higher technological education in England and Wales 1955-1966. Compulsory liberal studies

Heywood, J. (2011) Higher technological education in England and Wales 1955-1966. Compulsory liberal studies. [Conference Proceedings]


Compulsory liberal studies are not usually associated with engineering education in the UK. Yet, between 1955 and 1966 students in colleges in the public sector in England and Wales pursuing higher technological programmes were required to undertake three or four hours per week liberal studies throughout their four year courses. The purpose of this paper is to examine problems and practice in the implementation of those liberal studies on the basis of investigations carried out at the time including those of the author. It is also to consider their relevance, if any, to recent demands for a shift in the emphasis of engineering education from its technical focus to a broader view of what engineering is and what engineers need, as for example in Rosalind Williams critique. A caveat is entered to the effect that these programmes were the outcome of a particular cultural history at a particular time and may not necessarily be transferable across cultures. It may be argued that exclusion of the compulsory dictamen for liberal studies from the education of engineers in universities has its origins in the British social class system. An account is given of the significance of the period (1955 - 1966) in the history of British technological education. A review of the debates that accompanied the introduction of liberal studies and research undertaken at the time is presented. There was much discussion about what was meant by liberal studies and much of what happened in the colleges depended on how they (individually) interpreted the term. At one end of the spectrum they were considered to be an extension general education, while at the other end, they were considered to be liberal education as traditionally defined. A distinction was made between subjects likely to be useful to the engineer (tool), and those distant from engineering (fringe). Tool/fringe subjects were to be distinguished from 'cultural'subjects. In the context of Rosalind Williams proposals, the social sciences would be tool subjects. In her work there is no discussion of liberal education per se. Irrespective of intention they were seen as a means of raising the status of the Colleges of Advanced Technology. There was also a debate about who should teach them and where they should be taught. As with any innovation of this kind not only are student attitudes to them important but so are those of the faculty who teach mainstream subjects. Taking together the research undertaken at the time suggests that liberal studies were somewhat more successful than they might have been. © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education.

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