Educating the Nation II: Universities
Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (Sixth Series)
Cambridge Unniversity Press
MetadataShow full item record
Mandler, P. (2015). Educating the Nation II: Universities. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (Sixth Series), 25 1-26. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0080440115000079
In my first address I argued that democracy, not meritocracy, was the driving force behind the provision of universal secondary education in Britain in the second half of the 20th century. Before the Second World War, when State secondary education was only on offer to a portion of the population, thus by definition selective, meritocracy (though not yet so-called) had a powerful appeal, as it promised fair access to selective schools. After the Second World War, however, when universal secondary education was promised, the terms of the debate changed radically. Education was now viewed within a universal welfare-state context, like health, and just as most people wanted the best health-care they also wanted the best education for all. By the end of the 1950s a cross-party consensus was emerging for ‘grammar schools for all’, and in the 1960s this materialized as cross-party support for comprehensivization. This democratic consensus on secondary education was not confined to the ‘consensus’ era; post-consensus politicians of the Thatcher stripe have maintained it to the present day, with the focus shifting away from selection for some towards raising standards for all. Not quite the same argument can be made for higher education. Unlike secondary education, higher education has never been offered as a universal service. Only some people are deemed eligible for it. The governing principle since the 1960s has been the Robbins principle – ‘that courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so’ – clearly a meritocratic principle. Nevertheless, here I will argue that Robbins embedded this principle in a democratic context that assumed that not only the numbers of those ‘qualified by ability and attainment’ but also the numbers of those ‘who wish to do so’ would and should increase consistently for the foreseeable future. This was at least in part because access to higher education was umbilically connected to rising aspirations and attainments in secondary education, and thus implicated in the democratic discourse that governed secondary education. As with secondary education, this quasi-democratic approach to higher education, while born in the classic ‘consensus’ period, can be shown to have persisted and indeed intensified in allegedly post-consensus circumstances; though unlike secondary education its course did not run smooth. This makes, I think, for a more textured and a more interesting narrative, which I will trace from the 1960s to the present day.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0080440115000079
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/248551