Part of the curriculum of further education colleges in the 1970s and 1980s intended to contribute breadth to the education of students on vocational courses by introducing topics such as literature, letter‐writing, and sociological debate into their timetable. Its purpose derived from the liberal education model, which regarded a purely vocational, or skills‐based, curriculum as restrictive and mechanistic. It was aimed at developing the ‘whole person’, and represented the view that education should operate as a means of developing individual potential, aspirations, and enlightenment. By the 1990s liberal studies (or general studies, as it was sometimes known in this context) had been widely replaced by the teaching of communication and numeracy skills, later defined as key skills, with the more instrumental purpose of providing students with the skills demanded by employers and building a more literate and numerate workforce.
Because of the ‘bolt‐on’ nature of much liberal studies provision, it was sometimes viewed both by students and their vocational teachers as irrelevant and even risible. Something of this is captured in Tom Sharpe's comic novel Wilt (1976), which famously satirizes the contradictions of liberal studies provision in the 1970s.