Thursday, November 04, 2010

It Takes A Very Clever Man To Be This Foolish

I blogged Mr Gove's Big Society example back in May, the Heroes of Balsall Heath, and wondered if the poor judgement shown then belonged to him or his advisers.

Now he's come out with a cunning plan to raise tuition fees to £9,000 a year and saddle graduates with anything up to £60K of debt for a three year course.

At Conservative Home, commenter Peter Lloyd has wise words :

I'm really disappointed that the Conservatives, especially Michael Gove have not given a proper context for the mess the government have inherited on this, and defended the Conservative principles which should underlie their long term policy.
In my view the story is roughly this:

1. The crisis has sprung out of the Labour target of 50% of school leavers going to university and the resultant big increase in the number of places and of universities, a lot of which were specialist colleges, not universities at all.

2. This led to a lowering of standards and by default a false promise to many students that their degrees would be as valuable as degees had been before. This is has been repeatedly shown up by employers telling us about the poor quality of graduates

3. Another result is constant interference in university admission policy, forcing universities not to choose by ability, something which has the potential to destabilise the whole system of excellence which is what universities are really there to pursue. There is now no level playing field for students and that is really unfair on them.

4. We would not have had these high fees (which the Conservatives should be dead against in principle) if universities hadn’t sprung up like weeds and ended up costing a fortune. Labour’s social engineering project was never costed properly

5. We have a situation where a lot of students at university shouldn't be there at all. Universities are there to develop intellect and show the importance of all the different academic subjects as contributors to society. Learning is brilliant in its own right and doesn't need any other justification. They are not and should not be seen as giving a simple passport to employment. It's something neither they, nor the government, can guarantee in any case.

6. The best way forward is admit what universities are for, turn a lot back to high standard technical colleges supported by industry and designed to help get their students into specific jobs, and leave the top academic universities to raise standards and just take the best in order for Britain to compete effectively in the world at that level.

7. The government should vigorously pursue adoption and improvements in the much talke about apprenticeship schemes (see letters to the FT today for example.) More kids will see the benefit of getting into employment by other routes

8. In the short term, and because of this mess we are currently in, universities should have additional tests for borderline applicants so they can see the potential of students who could do well at university but who have been to rubbish schools, then balance those test results against their A level results. This is far better than pursuing the social engineering agenda of getting unsuitable kids into university and spinning them nonsense stories about their future prospects.

9. But most important of all the Conservatives have got to say that university students are not better than others and that the route to being a successful citizen of Britain does not depend on going to a university. Lots don't but are equally important members of society with lots of ability and a good chance of doing well at work. Let's change this culture.

9. If we can do this we should be able to get rid of university fees in the end and the burden they are placing on our young people. The public is not unhappy about government paying for universities

Maybe I flatter myself, but I think that's not too far away from my analysis of last week.

Labour go somewhat insane, proclaiming that 50% of school leavers should be at uni – i.e. anyone over average intelligence. Every teacher training college in the land becomes a university (no longer a live-at-home student body), and the school leaving age is raised to 18. Ironically, the main beneficiaries are the middle classes, who can now get their more average children through Uni. You find former Polytechnics which are now much more middle class than a university was 25 years previously.

As above, the financial strain of this idiotic ‘all must have degrees’ policy finally catches up. They HAVE to introduce loans and tuition fees, otherwise the 50% non-uni candidates are subsidising the top 50%.

So far, so bad. But Gove's decision to up fees to (potentially) £9K, creating a debt of about £20K pa for a student paying £5K for accommodation and £6K for living, threatens IMHO to reverse the Labour lunacy and reduce the numbers of students (and courses) somewhere back to around the late-70s figure.

Threatens ? Wasn't that what you were arguing for ?

There's no doubt that fewer people should be going to university. There's little doubt that we're producing too many sociology, politics and psychology grads, and too few physicists and engineers (and half of the top science grads end up in the City - but that's another story).

But the Gove option will mean that a lot of bright working or lower-middle class kids will look at a potential £60,000 debt and they won't bother - unless they're at Oxbridge or doing a course with a pretty much guaranteed career at the end of it. Outside this small subset of courses, university will be restricted to those whose parents can subsidise them - i.e. the very rich.

That's not all bad - I can see cultural studies departments being disbanded across England and Wales. Economic forces will cut away swathes of courses and institutions, correcting the insane growth of the last 25 years.

But at that kind of cost the idea of education as a good in itself will wither away. Who's going to do archaeology without a private income ?

Couldn't we just go back to the situation of twenty-plus years back, where the top 5% go to uni, with full grants for those with non-wealthy parents ?

Another potential issue - a £60,000 debt to be repaid from UK earnings provides an enormous incentive to minimise UK earnings. The most efficient way to do this will be to emigrate.

Result - a double hit as the fees remain unpaid and the tax revenue from our grad goes to Australia or Canada. Enough graduates are leaving as it is - and by definition they won't be the duffers, given the points systems used in more sensible countries.

"There are now 3.247 million British-born people living abroad, of whom more than 1.1 million are highly-skilled university graduates, say the researchers. More than three quarters of these professionals have settled abroad for more than 10 years, according to the study by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). No other nation is losing so many qualified people, it points out. Britain has now lost more than one in 10 of its most skilled citizens, while overall only Mexico has had more people emigrate. Britain's exodus is far higher than any of the OECD's other 29 members. Germany has lost only 860,000 highly-skilled workers, America 410,000 and France 370,000. The OECD found that 27.3 per cent of those emigrating had health or education qualifications, 37.7 per cent had humanities or social science degrees and 28.5 per cent were scientists or engineers."

Mr Gove's response to all this ?

Mr Gove played down the research suggesting that higher fees would put off applicants.

"I believe that it won't have that effect. I believe that people will make a rational decision on the benefits that accrue to them as a result of taking a university degree," he said.

They certainly will, Mr Gove. That's exactly what I'm worried about.


Moriarty said...

I can't see that the current government can do much else to sort out the education problem at the moment. They certainly don't have the support (or the balls)to tackle the 'all must have prizes' education culture, plus they'll want to keep the fake unis going for a few years to keep down the unemployment figures anyway.

Raising tuition fees should at least lower the demand for places, and a smaller number of students with more at stake might be enough to allow bigger changes in the future. Of course, that assumes more subtle and long term planning than any British government has bothered with for a long time.

Laban said...

"Raising tuition fees should at least lower the demand for places"

It will - at least among the less well off.

Moriarty said...

Agreed Laban, but as the kind of changes that would most benefit those dependent on the state system are anathema to the educationalists, I can't see any painless way of improving things.

Foxy Brown said...

No other nation is losing so many qualified people.

The brain drain of doctors, scientists and engineers to pastures more verdant is a sign that we're pretty much a third world country. Remember the, "More Malawian doctors in Manchester than in Malawi" story of a few years back.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it Cable and Willetts who are responsible for Universities, rather than Gove?

Laban said...

Perdix, you may be right - but isn't Gove in overall control ?

I thought Willetts was supposed to have two brains!

Hexe said...

The middle of belief read LIE...

But stand back a second and look.

The universities are not value for money at all, most courses they 'teach' can be easily learnt at home if you have a good reading list. In fact, most students don't bother with lectures at all, and just attend the tests -- it's traditional.

And even if they do turn up -- classes of 100+ people with 4 hours of lectures a week and 2 hours contact time per subject (that is, a bored pHD student gets to prod the stupid into understanding or at least parroting) and with 4 such courses per semester.. you're looking at 16 hours service by the professional, and 8 hours with the £10 an hour bods.

If you take an 80k hit on faffing around for 3 years like that (I added the lost wages here), then you deserve debts.

Laban, the problem of escaping slaves can easily be solved nowadays, no-one needs to build a wall anymore, because the entire planet has been turned into a tax prison.

Anonymous said...

Having escaped from Britain a few years ago I can heartily recommend leaving to anyone who's considering doing so; I earn more, keep more of it, have a decent house in a good area for the cost of an ex-council flat in Chavtown, there are hardly any CCTV cameras spying on me and there isn't a speed camera within a hundred miles.

Returning to Britain on my occasional visits feels like traveling to the USSR before the people tore down the wall. It's probably a good idea to get out now before the EUSSR is demanding exit visas.

Oddly, I used to live a few doors from Michael Gove; I always thought he might aspire to be something more than another tired politico.

Ian F4 said...

One thing that would be hoped for is "market forces" will come into play, as long as the government doesn't step in, even though the control freaks are out of power now, we still don't know how interfering this lot will be.

No-one is going to shell out £60k for a degree level qualification that gets you a job only earning £15-20k, i.e. Nursery Nurse (yes, they need a "degree" too).

So, somewhere, someone will grab the opportunity and charge the appropriate rate for the qualification, because there will be a demand and it will be met.

As stated, most of these qualifications certainly do not require the kind of costs demanded of them.