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So, We’re Going To Have To Reinvent The Polys And Technical Colleges



Torsten Bell never does quite manage to think through the things he says nor the results of the research that he uncovers. This being an excellent example:

Nationally, the UK could do with more innovation. After all, we’ve had next to no productivity growth since 2008, which partly explains why we haven’t had a pay rise either. Big regional productivity gaps, which have been with us for decades, also lie behind the government’s “levelling-up” agenda.

With London, the south-east and east accounting for 52% of total R&D spending, government has been under pressure to be transparent about how much public innovation support different regions receive. Some propose new universities, or proper endowments for existing ones, in the north of England. A new paper offers support for the idea that such institutions make a real difference to innovation.

In the mid-1990s, the Swiss government established universities of applied sciences, with technical researchers working closely with business. The institutions increased both the quantity of regional innovation (patent numbers rose by 6.8%) and its quality (lots of patents are rubbish, so this is as important). For those who fear this was because the Swiss have strong local economies, the researchers found positive effects even outside bigger, already successful cities.

Well, yes, OK. So strong technical education is a good part of that levelling up process, of innovation and generally making the world a better place.

We used to have those strong technical education places. Dependent upon level they were Technical Colleges and Polytechnics. They were designed and built to do exactly those things, produce people who knew what they were doing on those technical subjects, train the local workforces and also work with local industry on local industry problems.

So, we abolished them. Turned them into universities where everyone can get three years of woke instead of learn to count. Research inside them is on such important matters as queer eye for Jane Austen instead of well, we’ve got a struvite build up at the sewage works, what do we do about it?

Hmm, given that they’re both about shit perhaps not all that different.

So, if what Bell has noted is correct – and it is – what should we do about it? Abolish most of the universities in the country, reduce the three years of woke quotient and go back to teaching people to count, obviously. Is that what Bell suggests? Nope, then he’s not thinking through his own logic, is he?



  1. At a difficult time in my life, I took a 2-year HND in Computing at Portsmouth Polytechnic. I had’nt used a computer before (this was 1983) and I wanted a white-collar skill. The course provided that, and more. (The Computer Science Degree was 4 years, with a year out, better for younger and brighter students!)
    Its so sad – well, not for the senior academics, I suppose, but for everyone else – that the Poly is now a University and the 2-year, 22-hours-lecture-per-week HND is no more.

    • As Carl Sagan said, “We live in a society exquisitely dependent upon science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” Disclosure: I know how to code, but most technical stuff is to me indistinguishable from magic.

      By the bye, this regional inequality meme is total, unequivocal and absolute BS. Silicone Valley being the archetype. Government didn’t make it so. Millions of ambitious individuals made it so. Who is suggesting that Silicone Valley is unfair, unjust and inequitable?


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