Asee peer logo

Higher Technological Education in England and Wales between 1955 and 1966: Compulsory Liberal Studies

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Liberal Education Revisited: Five Historical Perspectives

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.776.1 - 22.776.19



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


John Heywood Trinity College, Dublin

visit author page

Professorial Fellow Emeritus of Trinity College Dublin formerly Professor and Director of Teacher Education. During the period of the paper was a lecturer in radio communication at Norwood Technical College, Senior Research Fellow in Higher Technological Education at Birmingham College of Advanced Technology, and Leverhulme Senior Research Fellow at the University of Lancaster respectively. he has an M.Sc. in Engineering Education from the University of Dublin

visit author page

Download Paper |


Higher Technological Education in England and Wales 1955 –1966. Compulsory Liberal Studies.Compulsory liberal studies are not usually associated with engineering education in theUK. Yet, between 1955 and 1966 students in colleges in the public sector in England andWales pursuing higher technological programmes were required to undertake three orfour hours per week liberal studies throughout their four year courses. The purpose of thispaper is to examine problems and practice in the implementation of liberal studies on thebasis of investigations carried out at the time including those of the author. It is also toconsider their relevance, if any, to recent demands for a shift in the emphasis ofengineering education from its technical focus to a broader view of what engineering isand what engineers need, as for example in Rosalind Williams critique. A caveat isentered to the effect that these programmes were the outcome of a particular culturalhistory at a particular time and may not necessarily be transferable across cultures. It maybe argued that exclusion of the compulsory dictamen for liberal studies from theeducation 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 ofBritish technological education. A review of the debates that accompanied theintroduction of liberal studies and research undertaken at the time is presented. There wasmuch discussion about what was meant by liberal studies and much of what happened inthe colleges depended on how they (individually) interpreted the term. At one end of thespectrum they were considered to be an extension general education, while at the otherend, they were considered to be liberal education as traditionally defined. A distinctionwas made between subjects likely to be useful to the engineer (tool) and those distantfrom engineering (fringe). In this context Rosalind Williams proposals the social scienceswould 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 ofAdvanced Technology. There was also a debate about who should teach them and wherethey should be taught. As with any innovation of this kind not only are student attitudesto them important but so are those of the faculty who teach mainstream subjects. Takingtogether the researches would suggest that liberal studies were somewhat more successfulthan they might have been.

Heywood, J. (2011, June), Higher Technological Education in England and Wales between 1955 and 1966: Compulsory Liberal Studies Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18057

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015