Utah Valley University President Matthew Holland is spending the summer at Oxford University in England. He was invited as a way to further his studies as a scholar of American history, but in the process he found himself accepting an invitation to address British parliament about the future of higher education.
When Holland arrived at Oxford, he anticipated that he’d spend the vast majority of his time writing and speaking about the correspondence between James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, one of his areas of expertise.
If he had some time left over, Holland thought, he could write a little about higher education and UVU’s education model. But as he began talking his new colleagues, he realized something.
“They were at least as interested and sometimes more interested in the higher ed things I was discussing than the American political history," Holland says.
UVU is a university built on a community college foundation and because of that it presents a unique mix of vocational training and liberal arts. A student can work toward a certificate in woodwork or a philosophy degree on the same campus.
That is not the case with British education.
“There’s an intense interest in Britain about vocational education in general and a sense that they have really gone away from it, undervalued it, not innovated with respect to it and they are paying the price for it now nationally, commercially, economically," says Holland.
There’s a growing fear that Brexit will cut off the country to a huge skilled workforce with no one to replace them, which is a major reason Holland was invited alongside a few other education thinkers to address British lawmakers at the Palace of Westminster.
Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, a co-sponsor of the meeting, told news outlets that in England the focus has been on university students
“And that has meant that we left behind what I myself call technical education," Nicholson says.
The event was well-attended, standing room only, and well timed. Prime Minister Theresa May has recently introduced legislation that could put millions of dollars of investment into creating new technical institutions. And what has been happening at UVU in Orem, Utah might just shape how some of that money is spent.