Polytechnic (United Kingdom)

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A polytechnic was a tertiary education teaching institution in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland offering higher diplomas, undergraduate degree and post graduate education (masters and Phd's) that was governed and administered at the national level. After the passage of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 they became independent universities which meant they could award their own degrees. The comparable institutions in Scotland were collectively referred to as Central Institutions. Like polytechnics or technological universities (Institute of Technology) in other countries, their aim was to teach both purely academic and professional vocational degrees (engineering, law, architecture, management, business, accounting, journalism, town planning, IT) etc. Their focus was applied education for professional work and their original roots concentrated on advanced engineering and applied science, though soon after being founded they also created departments concerned with the humanities. The Polytechnic legacy was to advance and excel in undergraduate and post graduate degrees in engineering and technology education that now form a core faculty at most universities in the UK. While many former Polytechnics have advanced their research focus many have stayed true to their original ethos by focussing on teaching for professional practice.

The designation "polytechnic" was also, less commonly, used by further education colleges such as Kilburn Polytechnic (later renamed as Kilburn College). The division between universities and polytechnics was known as the Binary Divide.

History[edit]

While most polytechnics were formed in the expansion of higher education in the 1960s, some can trace their history back much further than this. For instance the London Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster), emerged from the Royal Polytechnic Institution which was founded at Regent Street London in 1838. The establishment of the polytechnic was a reaction to the rise of industrial power and technical education in France, Germany and the USA. Prior to the 1960s degrees at the London Polytechnic were validated by the university of London. The first British institution to use the name "polytechnic" was the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, which it still retains, together with the affectionate nickname "The Poly".

Academic degrees in polytechnics were validated by the UK Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) from 1965 to 1992. The CNAA was chartered by the British government to validate and award degrees and maintain national quality assurance standards. The CNAA subject boards from their inception were from the universities. A CNAA degree was formally recognised as equivalent to a university degree and the courses were under strict scrutiny by assessors external to the polytechnics.

Sub-degree courses at these institutions were validated by the Business & Technology Education Council (BTEC).

Some polytechnics were often seen as ranking below universities in the provision of higher education because they lacked degree-awarding powers, concentrated on applied science and engineering education for work and had less research than the universities, and because the qualifications necessary to gain a place in one were lower than for a university (the failure rate in the first year of undergraduate courses was high due to a rigorous filtering process). However, in terms of an undergraduate education this was a misconception since many polytechnics offered academic degrees validated by the CNAA from bachelor and Masters degree to PhD research degrees.[1] Also professional degrees in, for instance, engineering, town planning, law, and architecture were rigorously validated by various professional institutions. Many polytechnics argued that a CNAA degree was superior to many university degrees especially in engineering, due to the external independent validation process employed by the CNAA, the engineering institutions, and innovations such as sandwich degrees. Such innovations made a Polytechnic education more relevant for professional work.[2]

For many years a central admissions system for polytechnics was not seen as necessary. However, a large increase in applications resulted from funding cuts to universities in the early 1980s. The Polytechnics Central Admissions System was introduced and handled the years of entry from 1986 to 1992.

Under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 they became fully fledged universities. After 1992, the former polytechnics ("new universities") awarded their own degrees. Most sub-degree BTEC qualifications have been phased out of the new universities and transferred to colleges of further education.

The polytechnics changed their names when they gained university status. Some simply dropped "polytechnic" and added "university" to their titles. For example, the Huddersfield Polytechnic became the University of Huddersfield. However, this was often not possible as there was sometimes another university with the name. One alternative title was "Metropolitan University", because the institution was situated in a city or other large metropolitan area. Examples are Manchester Metropolitan University and London Metropolitan University. These titles are often shortened to "Met" (Man Met, London Met) or an acronym (MMU, LMU). Others adopted a name which reflects the local area, such as Nottingham Trent University (named after the River Trent which flows through Nottingham) and Sheffield Hallam University ("Hallam" refers to the area of South Yorkshire in which much of Sheffield is situated). Ulster Polytechnic remains the only polytechnic to unite with a university; this occurred in 1984.

The last degree-awarding institution to hold on to the name "polytechnic" after 1992 was Anglia Polytechnic University (which had only attained polytechnic status the previous year). The word was soon identified as being off-putting to potential students, and the university became known as Anglia Ruskin University from 2005.

List of former polytechnics[edit]

At their peak there were over thirty polytechnics in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the English ones being primarily located in urban areas large enough to support industry or commerce, from which they usually took the city name. These are now universities.

In England, there are:

In addition, Wales has

and Northern Ireland has:

In Scotland there were comparable Higher Education institutions called Central Institutions but these very rarely used the designation "Polytechnic" in their titles; these also converted into universities.

  • One institution that did briefly use the designation "Polytechnic" was Edinburgh Napier University. Between 1988 and 1992 the institution was known as Napier Polytechnic.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Silver, Harold: "Higher Education in the UK: A critical examination of the Role of the CNAA", Higher Education Journal, Springer Netherlands, 1991
  2. ^ Brosan, "The Development of Polytechnics in the UK", Paedagogica Europaea, Vol 7, 1972
  3. ^ "About Edinburgh Napier University". Retrieved 3 December 2011.