Higher Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:34 pm on 14th September 2004.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Education & Skills Committee 2:34 pm, 14th September 2004

No; I am coming to the end of my speech.

I am worried that universities might be turning out rather one-dimensional people. Although they may be good at their subjects, their education is less broad and well balanced than previously. When I talk to students in the United States, where I have taught as a visiting lecturer in Cornell university for many years, I find a greater breadth and depth across the piece than in our students. We must think about the quality and dimension of our university education and consider whether we are turning out what used to be called well rounded and multi-dimensional individuals. To be elitist, such people used to have an understanding of the arts, philosophy and a broad range of subjects. We did not just turn out social scientists, mathematicians, chemists, doctors and dentists. All our parties must consider the people whom we are turning out.

On the night before John Smith died, I heard him make a moving speech, part of which questioned the way in which the educational system no longer seemed to turn out enough people who wanted to enter public service. I must say that he was talking towards the end of the Thatcher era. He thought that too many people who left education wanted to be have a high income with a job in the City. He talked about the need for people to be motivated towards public service—albeit properly rewarded—and dedicated to giving something back to the country in which they lived and to which they owed much. As we talk about higher education in the coming months before the election, I hope that that tone can be inserted into the debate.