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December 10, 2010

Higher education funding

So the vote is through the commons, and it’s likely that future students of higher education will have to pay up to £9,000 a year in fees. Student bodies have of course opposed this, with predominantly their own self interests at heart. Yet no-one really seems to have an alternative. So what really is the protest about?

Let’s look at the problem. Higher education is expensive, and needs to be paid for somehow. Traditionally, this funding (for UK students at least) has predominantly come from the government. In past times where student numbers were low, this was a sustainable model – the brightest and best went to university whilst everyone else got by with O-Levels, A-Levels, HND’s etc. Then it all started to go wrong with the drive to increase student numbers. In an attempt to fund the previous government’s frankly ridiculous target of sending 50% of people to univesity, in came tuition fees to much protest. Initially around £1,000 and then raised to the current £3,000 a year cap, much has been made of this fairly modest contribution by students to their education.

Now, the party is over and the public money has run out. The UK, like many western economies, has built up a massive debt and deficit, which must be curbed in order to avoid economic catastrophe. Most areas of public spending must come down in order to achieve this, and higher education must do its bit. What previously was seen as a right to free education for all now looks like a luxury that we can’t afford. With the numbers of people now attending universities, the lines must be redrawn.

So, the question really is, why is it everyone’s right to free university education? Free education up to the age of 18, few would argue with. But by the age of 18, young people are perfectly well equipped to go forth and start work, learn a trade or a profession. University has traditionally been the route for those who wish to take on the most challenging careers in law, medicine, science or academia. These career paths demand abilities and skills that require academic learning beyond the A-Level stage. The principle beneficiaries of these educated people are the students themselves, who go on to command higher than average wages, and the instituions that employ them.

Aha, you are probably thinking at this point, but not everyone who goes to university does benefit financially. Well no, I wouldn’t dispute that. That’s because many people who go to university now don’t actually need their degrees to go on and perform the jobs they take on in society. But as the number of graduates exceeds the demand, employers can be picky and selective, giving preference to or even making a requirement that applicants have degrees that they don’t really need for their jobs. What we have is an over-qualified workforce.

Some of you will still be thinking that my arguments exclude those whose chosen profession really does need a degree, but leads to low paid work, for example in social work. My own opinion is that in a lot of cases, we should be exploring alternatives to the degree for such work – such as a system of work-based learning and part time study at further education college, which if well designed could lead us to have even better suited people in these professions than the academic degree route. The fundamental point is though, that any profession that requires a degree but isn’t offering the wages to pay for the tuition fees is receiving a public subsidy by the government, because they are not paying out for the level of education they need in their staff.

The current system is such that all professions essentially receive this subsidy. By increasing the fees charged to students, the true cost of higher education is being made more visible to students and their eventual employers. For many, their profession values their qualification as it should and it is only fair that as a well paid professional they should have to pay for the benefit of the education that they received, which is now providing them with a quantifiable financial benefit, and their employer is paying for the cost through their higher than average wages. If this is not the case, then that profession is receiving a subsidy and this should be achieved through alternate means, either by the government increasing wages for low paid public sector professionals who are in genuine need of a degree, or by directly subsidising the fees of students who take up these courses with a commitment to public sector work upon graduation. By having to pay what it actually costs, students will also re-evaluate whether they really need a degree to do their chosen profession, and in time student numbers will probably naturally come down a little from their current levels. This is the nature of supply and demand; to argue against this is to argue for the state to subsidise an over-qualified and under-paid workforce, which is a nonsence.

Many of you reading this will find my justification for tuition fees as abhorrent as the fees themselves. But what are the alternatives? Well, I see three main alternatives:

  1. Carry on as we are, keep fees at current levels or even reduce and abolish them. State subsidy for higher education will increase, the workforce will continue to be over-qualified for the jobs that they do, the government finances take the hit and other areas of public spending have to take a bigger hit to compensate for the spending. Not an ideal option in my opinion.
  2. Reduce student numbers and make higher education more academically exclusive, limiting to say the top 25% of achievers. I’d support this as an alternative, but many wouldn’t – not least the NUS would have a seizure. It also doesn’t have the neat supply/demand and visible true cost of education benefits that fees do, and the government still has to pick up the tab for those who go.
  3. Have a graduate tax. This isn’t actually any different to tuition fees loans for most people, except that you’d have to pay tax for your whole career instead of just paying back what you borrowed for your education. Thus, the best paid professions would be subsidising the least well paid professions. This option is attractive to liberal types, presumably because they see it as a great way of bashing corporate high fliers to subsidise a utopian dream of university eduaction free for all. The reality of this system is little different for all but the highest paid, who are effectively being actively encouraged to pay for their education elsewhere before returning to the UK for work, thus neatly avoiding having to pay the tax in the first place. Has little merit over fees in my opinion, whilst adding some flaws.

Of these options, clearly my view is that higher fees are likely to become a permanent feature of higher education, and rightly so. The idea that poor students will be deterred by going to university because of the debts shows either a fundamental misunderstanding of the terms of the loans – paid off by the state after 30 years, only paid back when earning over a very comfortable threshold, not a commercial loan in the strictest sense – or a liberal belligerence that refuses to accept that good quality higher education costs serious amounts of cash, and it’s not on for the government to indefinitely fork out for their benefit.


March 14, 2006

Some more gender stuff

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4800882.stm

At the above web page, which Craig has already blogged about and drawn to my attention, you'll find an article describing the differences between stimulating subjects for boys and girls in science lessons. Reading the list, I can completely connect with pretty much everything the article is saying. I disagree with the least favourite topics, which were shared by boys and girls (famous scientists and their lives, and modern farming methods) as I find both of those topics very interesting. But anyway…

The general theme of the article is an admission that boys and girls like different things, and that perhaps the time has come to acknowledge this, and adapt lessons accordingly to reverse the decline in the study of the sciences at a more advanced level. I quote directly from the article and the words of the author of the report, Professor Jenkins of Leeds University:

"We have had a generation or more now of promoting gender equality but the differences exist and I raise the question as to whether we should teach the two sexes separately for some of the time."

So, what say you people? Is it right that we embrace the differences between males and females, and teach them accordingly to their strengths and not force them through their weaknesses, thus turning them off of the subject in hand altogether? Or should we continue to force the notion that eqaulity of the sexes translates to us being identical in every respect, and thus there should be no need to teach differently?


December 29, 2005

A year's reflection

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

I haven't blogged in a while, so in the true spirit of blogs I've decided to plagiarise something that looks interesting!

1. What did you do in 2005 that you’d never done before?

I drove a Claas Lexion 460 and a Lamborghini Murcielago. Both of which were immense fun, for entirely different reasons!

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I never make any so this question isn't really relevant. If I want to make a resolution, I don't see the point in waiting for something so token-like as a new year to make one!

3. What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005?

A car with a proper number of cylinders under the bonnet.

4. What date from 2005 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Specifically to 2005, the only one that comes to mind is 22nd of July for reasons which some people are aware of.

5. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I don't know that I achieved all that much this year. Probably getting onto the Formula Student team is my biggest achievement!

6. What was your biggest failure?

Again, I struggle to think of anything I've really screwed up on or broken. My revision period was a bit of a mess so I screwed up a couple of exams, I had a few minor problems at work this year with breaking a few silly things via carelessness, but nothing serious.

7. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

My job, my birthday and my birthday presents. And a few other things which I'm not posting!

8. What song will always remind you of 2005?

The Killers – Mr Brightside. It reminds me of the best moments of the year so it's the one that I would like to most associate with it

9. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Sleeping, spending time with friends

10. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Being too much of a recluse at times, getting irritated and short-tempered with people

11. What was the best book you read?

Jeremy Clarkson – I know you got soul

12. What was your greatest musical (re)discovery?

My favourite new artist of the year is probably KT Tunstall

13. What did you want and get?

A new computer, a PVR, a Radar detector/GPS locator, driving a supercar experience, a trip to Canada… Probably a few things I've missed!

14. What did you want and not get?

A winning lottery ticket, a soulmate, a silver PS2 and a Breitling

15. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 21 this year. I took the day off work (friends will know that this is a rare event, even on a Sunday which my birthday was this year), and came home to a party organised by Chris. We went bowling and had some food in Pizza Hut afterwards; although not exactly ground-breaking in activities it was a wonderful day and lovely to see all my friends that I hadn't done in ages. I had a really great day, so thanks to all who came!

16. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Having the chance to take my friends out on the boat for a day/weekend

17. What kept you sane?

My closest friends (who all know who they are), my grandad, my car and my music collection

18. What political issue stirred you the most?

Oh where to start! On a university level, most definitely the recent motion regarding "unethical" companies sponsoring sports and societies. Nationally, well there's energy policy, the election itself, defence, education, Europe, the environment, transport… The single event this year that comes to mind (probably because it's the most recent) is Blair's free giveaway of our rebate. Overall though it's probably the road safety bill.

19. Who was the best new person you met?

I'm not going to start misery and rivalry by answering that one! To those who met me this year – it's been a pleasure meeting you all and I'm sure you know how special you are/aren't to me. Now there's a cop-out!

20. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005

You really, really, really can't please all people all the time. Note to self – please learn this lesson!


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