Major lecture calls for 'practical and inspiring' education

Published: 16 June 2006 at 14:27

Dr Ian Gibson calls for the abolition of degree classifications and predicts the abolition of the university research assessment exercise (RAE) at the annual lecture given in association with Anglia Ruskin University’s learning technology research centre Ultralab.

The Owers Lecture 2006 on 'The Culture of Tools and Technology Education' was given this year by Dr Ian Gibson MP. It was held at the London City Offices of the Oracle Corporation, a reciprocal working partner of Ultralab.

Dr. Gibson, who had a successful career as a genetics research scientist in the University of East Anglia before becoming an MP in 1997, spoke with passion and an insight into the issues facing science, technology and engineering in education and politics.

He praised the work of Dr Stan Owers - Ultralab’s ‘industrialist in residence’ - and the work and philosophy of Ultralab. It was no surprise to Dr Gibson that the director of Ultralab, Richard Millwood, also attended his old school of Dumfries Academy where the science teaching was practical and inspiring.

In an irreverent and insightful lecture Dr Gibson compared the world of politics and education. Both can be ‘vitriolic’ he said, but ‘there’s plenty of dirty tricks in academia too.’

Dr Gibson called for four main changes in UK education.  Firstly, he argued the case for the abolition of degree classifications.

“The best thing that could happen in UK Universities is to get rid of the first class / second class differentiation”,

he said.

He also called for the abolition of the university research assessment exercise (RAE). He predicted that the RAE would not take place in 2008.

“The sooner the Government says the better. You know who is doing good work. Very few people are duffers, students know who the rubbish lecturers are.”

“Molecular biologists Watson and Crick (who discovered the secret of DNA) would never have got anything in the RAE, they only had one small paper.”

He also spoke out, at length, on the need to have an emphasis on research in Education:

“We need to learn the philosophy of finding out about things, the populace is not scientifically literate, whereas most know about Shakespeare.”

He criticised the lack of scientific background and understanding in the various parts of government and called for a change in attitude to failure and the acceptance of the fact that failure can be part of learning.

“If it fails alright forget it, instead of recognising that things rarely work the first time, go back and repeat it and make it work.”

“People with really important skills are often demeaned.  We don’t need many people with higher education degrees. 11 plus; we went into politics to get rid of it, it fails people for their whole life, we all go up and down. RAE sustains the divide of poor and the rich Universities.”

“Bill Bryson – knew nothing about science, but started asking questions and started late in life to investigate things”.

“Young people should have the chance to research, regardless of their social status.  Currently they learn about stem cells in religion instead of science”.

“There are no scientists in Government.”  

“I think we should have a ministry of science and technology also pairing between you young people and MP’s’.  There’d be a lot of change if scientists were in the civil service.” 

“Students should be able to get first class degree from projects.”

Dr Gibson recognised the approach of Ultralab’s, Ultraversity degree at this point.

“Students came alive when they did projects – never get a paper out of it. They learnt what it was all about through doing. Some people want to do literature reviews but it gave people the confidence to go out and find how things work. You’d never get a first for it though”.

He finished his overview on the problems in education with a direct attack on the setting of targets.

“Targets inhibit ingenuity and we end up with students who are dumbed down.”