One of the worst things that the New Labour government did was to take responsibility for the universities out of the hands of the Department for Education and place them under the authority of the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation. This told us exactly how the government regarded universities: as degree factories that produced workers for white collar jobs in banking, business and customer services. Education for its own sake was discouraged and those embarking on a journey through higher education were encouraged to take up degrees in subjects like Business Studies. The idea here was to produce ‘entrepreneurs’. But not everyone can be an entrepreneur.
So imagine my disgust when I heard Vince Cable announce that higher education funding would be cut and graduates would be subjected to a higher rate of tax on completion of their studies. We know that social mobility decreased during the last years of the New Labour government and the numbers of working class HE students fell too. Here is one of the biggest myths about HE
Graduates earned on average £100,000 more than non-graduates in their life-time, Cable said, and there are significant premiums for degrees such as medicine
Yes, but that’s medicine. What about those with degrees in History, English or the Arts? Those graduates will be lucky to earn that kind of money, if they ever earn it at all. Someone isn’t living in the real world here and I think it’s Dr. Cable.
There is also provision being made for more private universities. To date, there is only one private university in the country and that is the University of Buckingham . A favourite of Thatcher, Buckingham is known for its rigidly conservative approach to education. You will find no arts or philosophy courses here. Oh no, it’s business, business, business, medicine and a bit of science.
Cable also announced that more degree courses will last 2 years rather than the current 3 or 4 years. In my mind, this is something of a con-trick. Aaron Porter of Leftfootforward says,
Dr Cable is right that that greater flexibility is needed in higher education in combination with greater fairness, and this includes expanding the range of study options and modes. However, it would be wrong to force students to take two year degrees or to stay at home because they would not otherwise be able to afford the cost of university. The re-opening of a two tier system would not be in line with his stated aim of greater fairness for students.
That’s Aaron Porter as in the toady president of the National Union of Students Aaron Porter.
Universities have been a favourite target of Tory governments. In the past they have been accused of being ‘hotbeds’ of extreme left wing activism or delivering courses that have no [economic] value. Sociology was one such course singled out by the Tories in the 70’s and 80’s as being part of a left-wing conspiracy to undermine the fabric of society. Recently, Media Studies has been subjected to the same vilification. Perhaps the underlying reason for the hatred of Media Studies has little to do with people ‘poncing about with cameras’ and more to do with opposition to creating a more media literate society. It is easier to con people who are less media literate with digital editing tricks than those who have been exposed to media studies.
A graduate tax will put many more students off going to university. The hardest hit by these proposals will be people from low income families. Mature students will also be put off by the imposition of a graduate tax. so if you come from a family that owns a £968,000 property and has an income of £500,000 pa, you’re okay. If you’re 26, single and on benefits, forget it. The mature undergraduate student will become a thing of the past.
The various university groups have expressed their dismay at the proposals. Wendy Platt of the Russell Group said,
“It would lead to many years before revenue from the tax became available so until then there would be a requirement for a very major upfront investment in universities by government – a very costly solution.”
I was lucky, I got a grant to go to university. It wasn’t worth much but it was something. Unlike today’s students, I didn’t have to pay tuition fees nor did I have to burden myself with a student loan. I was also a mature student. Education is an investment for the future and by restricting education to those who can afford it, spits in the eye of a fair society.
Big Society, my arse.