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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Engineering a Link Between Universities and Vocational Schools? The Divergent Role of Professional Associations and Business Interests in the Formation of Systems for Technical Education in Germany and the USA


Germany and the USA both industrialized between 1860 and 1925, but they developed different systems for industrial and technical education. The Germans developed a more comprehensive, system, with three distinct levels; lower, middle and higher education. The higher engineering schools were separate from the traditional universities but granted equal status. Industrial education in Germany was primarily part of a mobilization for technik, industrial growth, social unity and nationalism. Engineering education was used to establish a link between vocational schools and academic education. The American field of technical education around 1925 consisted largely of engineering colleges, which to a large extent was integrated in the traditional university system. Engineering colleges had multiplied as in no other country, and the training of artisans, foremen and technicians had been neglected. There was a clear social distinction between engineering schools and institutions for vocational education, the latter being partly associated in the public mind with rehabilitation of criminals and school dropouts. Engineering educators contributed to this mindset by distancing themselves from vocational schools and institutions for manual training.

I account for the different outcomes and ideologies by emphasizing differences in organizational resources and worldviews among four groups; teachers and academics, engineers in professional associations, politicians/civil servants and business managers. The educational revolution and the academization process in engineering started earlier in Germany, and the rise of large corporations increased the influence of practitioners and industrialists in the education system. Engineering in the United States was originally a practical and shop-based profession. Academic entrepreneurs and teachers had the initiative in education, and they were more firmly in control also after the industrial revolution.

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