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David Fisher, UVU
Big Ben towers over The Palace of Westminster on Monday, July 10, 2017, when UVU President Matt Holland spoke to a parliamentary group at the House of Lords about the way his school pairs vocational education and academic education.

OREM — Most countries and schools educate university students and skilled laborers separately, an act of educational segregation that a growing number of experts believe has contributed to widening polarization in America and across Europe.

Utah Valley University educates both groups together, and President Matt Holland, who is spending the summer in England, offered UVU's dual model as a possible solution to an interested audience of British Members of Parliament in London this week.

Brexit and President Trump's election revealed political, cultural and social divides, Holland said. "Part of the reason we're more divided is because our educational systems have been segregated. We train vocational students in one way, and we train university students in another way. What we need is a better blend."

Holland was one of three panelists who appeared at the annual meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Foreign Affairs. The standing-room-only event was held in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster. It included members of both houses of Parliament, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, with representatives of the Conservative, Labor and Liberal Democrat parties.

Another panelist called for an end to "a false divide between technical and academic education."

"As a scientist, I know that the idea that we separate the world into those who think and those who make is a terrible error," said Sir Keith Burnett, president of the University of Sheffield.

Holland explained how UVU developed from a technical, vocational education-focused community college to a university without shedding its community college background.

Brexit raised the specter of a potential exodus of more than 2 million skilled laborers from the United Kingdom, which does not have a vocational education system to fill the gap. English educators and policymakers are keenly interested in solution, said the Baroness Emma Nicholson Winterbourne, a member of the House of Lords who co-sponsored the meeting.

The British system is serving university students well but has left technical education behind, she said.

"I think it's a very important issue at the moment," Baroness Nicholson added, describing a "great gulf between what is called what is called vocational education and academic education."

UVU has expanded its vocational programs even as it has developed into a teaching university, Holland said. The school has found economic efficiencies and cultural benefits, such as "what it means for vocational students to be at a university and to be taking courses in English and history and rubbing shoulders with students who in too many places, including in England, they'd be very separated from."

Born in 1941 as a vocational school for laborers needed in the war effort, UVU became a university in 2008. With 35,000 students, it is now Utah's largest institution of higher education.

"That we've done it with open admissions, giving second chances to people who need it even as we provide these first-rate opportunities, really brought energy into the room, kind of a table thumping, if you will," Holland said. "I spoke about why we remain determined to be open admissions and have these points of access for vocational and technical training even as we're building out a university."

Holland has long maintained that the UVU model is not for every school, especially for major research institutions. Instead, higher education systems should build out vocational education programs at schools with vestiges of them.

But Sheffield's Burnett qualified Holland's position. Sheffield is a major research institution that has found different ways to do what UVU has done. It operates an advanced manufacturing center provides students with hundreds of apprenticeship opportunities sponsored by companies.

"... As we partner with global companies and their supply chains," Burnett said, "we are opening up opportunities, high-skilled employment and access to higher education to young people who may have otherwise thought that university simply was not for them. We need to think in new ways about what higher education is for, and who it is for. Education can change lives, but our thinking needs to change with it for the good of all our children."

Burnett said the partnering with companies is both smart, because it draws industry investment, and right because it gives opportunities to students who need them the most and who are currently being underserved in many forms of vocational education.

"Many of the great breakthroughs in science and engineering are only possible because of the skills and understanding of those who can unite the mind with advanced technical experience," he said. "And in our modern world of AI and big data, what a nonsense it is to separate out peoples."

The other panelist, the Church of England's education representative for Parliament, the Bishop of Ely, Stephen Conway, provided a ringing endorsement of the UVU and Sheffield models. The church operates or is connected to 4,000 schools, from preschool to college.

England needs not only robust vocational tracks but enriched ones that develop the whole person, Conway said. In a speech that was parts philosophical, theological and spiritual, he challenged the education divide that separates technical training for jobs and moral training for life and becoming a good human being. He called for support, investment and creativity in developing education more holistically.

Each of the three speakers took about 15 minutes. A question-and-answer session stretched to 90 minutes, despite the draw of suspenseful matches underway at Wimbledon, less than 10 miles away.

"They answered so many questions from such a diverse audience, I count it as a huge success story," Baroness Nicholson said.

The event developed organically, Holland said. He met the Bishop of Ely at one conference during his summer sabbatical at Oxford. He met Burnett at another. Baroness Nicholson had sponsored a speech in 2015 in the House of Lords and another last year at Windsor Castle by his father, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Over lunch with the baroness, Holland shared the interesting discussions he'd had on the dual model. She suggested a transatlantic exchange of ideas the All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting.

The UVU model is gaining interest in the United States as well. A national education practitioners journal has accepted a paper Holland is writing about UVU's dual model. He is scheduled to submit the paper next month.

"I think (providing vocational education) that in a more concentrated and intentional way will help lessen some of the cultural and social and political divides we're seeing from the United States to the UK today."