Saturday, November 27, 2010

We Should Cut Student Numbers

It's not very often I say this. In fact I have never said this before. But Mary Dejevsky has written an article which I can agree with 100%! In yesterday's Independent she seriously suggests cutting the number of students in higher education. Here are her concluding paragraphs...

Employers and others increasingly complain about the calibre of many
graduates, not just in their chosen specialities – but in the basics, such as
standards of written English and the work ethic. They also complain about
professional courses offering too much theory and too little practice. Granted
that employability need not be the sole criterion of educational success, the
value of a British university education does not seem to have increased with the
numbers admitted. So long as selection is according to qualifications and
potential, rather than ability to pay, fewer students should mean better.
Universities will doubtless complain that fewer students would mean that
each has to pay more – but that is only true if the size of departments and
multiplicity of courses on offer remain the same. After a period of such rapid
expansion, it is now time to scythe through duplication and foster a few centres
of excellence. There may also be an argument for developing a two-tier system on
the US model, with four-year courses for some, giving students a first year to
decide where their aptitude lies, and two-year courses for others.

Much of the recent university expansion reflects a dubious "academicisation" of skills, as nursing, accountancy and, yes, journalism have become more and more graduate professions. Reversing this trend, far from lowering standards, could have the effect of producing a workforce that is actually better – more quickly, more
cheaply, and more appropriately – trained.

The Government may hope that higher fees will lead to more of a "market" in courses, with students "shopping around" for a degree that will pay off and universities forced to adapt what they offer accordingly. Perhaps that will happen. In the short term, though, the risk is of graduates weighed down by debt for the sake of degrees worth no more than A-levels. Rather than wait for the market to cut student numbers, the universities should take the initiative and revert to their traditional pursuit of academic excellence. This is still what universities are for.


Hallelujah. At last someone has articulated the case for a smaller, but better higher education sector - and astonishingly it is someone from the left. I really hope this starts a much bigger debate, because it is one which needs to be had. This year 479,000 students commenced university degrees - a 10% rise on 2006. Do we really, in our heart of hearts, believe that there are 479,000 capable of doing a university degree each year? Many have been brainwashed into thinking that unless they go to university they have failed in life. That's ridiculous of course, but it's easy to see why they think that. The trouble is that 25% of them will fall by the wayside during their courses, and drop out once they realise the awful truth. And it is then that they really will feel failures. Most will pick themselves up and dust themselves down but some will never recover from the experience. We are being grossly unfair on a huge number of 18 year olds by pretending that a university education is the be all and end all. It isn't.

In no way am I suggesting we go back to the days when I did my degree in the early 1980s when only 14% or so went to university. But nor do I think 43% should go unless they have the academic ability to do so. What a shame the old polytechnics felt they had to transmogrify themselves into universities. What a pity we have lost much of our technical education colleges and that 18 year olds no longer get the vocational opportunities they once had. What the government needs to do now is to provide a proper alternative to universities, an educational qualification which will be worth the paper it's written on and valued by employers - and is better than getting a bad degree in a third class university.

Read Mary Dejevsky's full article HERE.

56 comments:

IanVisits said...

In principle I agree that higher education should be slightly curbed so that it provides a genuine higher education to those who want/need one.

The problem is that many people leaving secondary education are so badly educated that they need a "higher education" to bring them up to the basic standards we would have expected a 16 year old school leaver to have 20 years ago.

Before we curb access to universities, we need to fix the secondary education so that students can leave school and get a decent job without needing a degree in media studies just to pick up basic reading/writing/maths skills.

Once the secondary education system is fixed, then the universities can be allowed to fade back a bit by the simple dint of a lack of customers.

Tim Footman said...

I wouldn’t have a problem with only, say, 25% going to university, provided they were genuinely the brightest and most able to make good use of the experience. The problem is that as access to HE has widened, middle-class school leavers who would previously have gone straight into the forces, banking etc have felt the need to have a degree, fearful of competition from bright oiks. I remember from my university days, the real academic disaster areas were from the independent sector - they'd been crammed for A-levels, and were smooth and plausible at interview, but were utterly incapable of independent study.

I had hoped that the fine example of Prince Harry - someone who, despite a hugely expensive education, is clearly unsuited to academic study – choosing not to attend university would have persuaded other posh thickos and their parents that there are alternatives, but it appears not to be the case. Provided we can ensure that the clever poor are able to take places ahead of the dim rich, Iain's and Mary’s arguments are entirely sound. Which is probably an argument for grammar schools, but that's another matter...

Michael Heaver said...

Read the UKIP manifesto Iain. We've been talking about doing this for years, along with restoring grammar schools for much better social mobility.

kris said...

oh Iain, don't you realise it is every child's human right to have a degree in media studies paid for by the Government?

If people want to go back to days where the Government covered student fees, then it follows you must cut university numbers to pre-Blair days.

This spoilt brat of a nation wants it all for everyone and for free - and they will hurl fire extinguishers off roof tops aimed at cops, destroy private and public property and burn what remains as they see fit.

How very dare you or any of us complain.

no longer anonymous said...

Problem is that there are a lot of lefties who like the idea of more people in uni because they believe that it will somehow make them more left-wing and/or liberal. I recall
Polly Toynbee making a point like this about a decade ago. There's a social engineering element here.

Victor, NW Kent said...

Hardly a novel idea Iain. Conservative Home has had a great many blogs and respondents who have called for the same self-evident course of action.

The problem lies in the fact that this has progressed for too long and there are hundreds of thousands of people with essential useless degrees. Would such people be expected to be happy to see people who learned on the job promoted above them?

The state should pay the entire tuition costs for students taking studies of national or commercial importance - doctors, civil engineers, dentists, biologists, physicists, hydrologists and the like on annually revised quotas. Entry to those disciplines would have to be by competitive examination.

The rest should be expected to pay the full costs of tuition. Nurses, solicitors, barristers and accountants should revert to be trained on the job.

Thorpe said...

If you increase the number of students (nearly fourfold, since the early 80s) then you dilute both the quality of education in the university, and dilute the value of the qualification.

That was entirely predictable in 1997 when Blair took power, declaring he wanted 50% of people to go to University. Thirteen years later, it seems as though the left may be waking up to this fact. They have however spent billions borrowed from the country's children to get to this point of realisation.

Filter said...

I agree entirely. There are so many graduates now who are simply unprepared for working life. They have the certificates but absolutely no common sense.

It's only in the last 10-15 years we've had this belief that the only way to get on in life is to have a University degree. Socialist ideals, socialist outcomes.

trevorsden said...

Agreed... but ...

What happens to 18 year olds when they leave school? What sort of jobs do we train them for? IanVisits comments are worth considering. The industrial landscape is different than 20 years ago.

But there are other issues that need fixing - its the attitude of companies and individuals. I was reading the Weatherspoons house mag at Aberdeen Airport the other day (over haggis neeps and tatties) and they were writing about their manager of the year who started life as a cleaner with them 15 years previously.
So worthwhile jobs are available without a fancy education provided employer and employee have the right attitude.

George said...

Only 25% of school leavers go on to University in Germany and no one is accusing that country of not producing well educated professionals.
Of the residue, 50% take some form of trade and professional qualification through employers.

Clearly the UK has fallen into the trap of believing that a degree is a necessity, and allowed all sorts of Uni's to be created out of the old Poly's flogging inadequate and indifferent courses.

University should be for the top quartile, who will benefit.
The smarter 2nd and 3 rd quartiles can undertake professional courses through employment.
With a leaner and more academic university cadre we can expect more study and higher grades and less drinking and less demo's.
All of which may lead to the ante status quo of no fees.!

Unsworth said...

Too bleeding true.

We have far too many graduates in far too many irrelevant spheres. The fact is that quality is infinitely more important than quantity. What use is a Media Studies degree in the real world?

This mindless pursuit of largely useless university qualifications has led to the raising of unreasonable and unrealistic expectations amongst students. We have lied to these people, saying that degrees will ensure that they are made for life. It's rubbish, of course - there aren't many jobs which require that level of learning. Worse, some employers are complicit in this con. They, too, seem to believe that academic success is somehow a measure of ability to do a job.

Now we see graduates 'reduced' to becoming burger flippers, with dashed hopes and expectations. No wonder they are disillusioned and angry.

Meanwhile we have thrown away our manufacturing industries, destroying any opportunity for school leavers to learn crafts and skills, or develop pride or any form of self-esteem. Traditional apprenticeships enabled people both to learn about the tasks in hand and how people and the world works. That has all gone, to the detriment and shame of society as a whole.

anne riddle said...

Iain - Why don't they just return the bulk of the "new" universities to Technical Colleges, then the students could learn something useful!

Nigel said...

Iain, such a 'debate' is a little redundant, given the radical higher education experiment on which the government has already engaged.

Cutting university teaching funding by 78% is likely to bring numbers down faster than you might wish. Students face the prospect of leaving university with debts around double that accumulated by graduates in that hotbed of market education - the US.
No other government in the developed world will spend as little on university students as we are set to do. Quite what the consequences will be, I don't know, but I suspect that they are unlikely all to be good.

It would have been good to have the debate before the policy, but it's a little late for that.

Michael CP said...

Mr Footman - I'm sure it was irony, but the common belief that people with no degree are thick is one reason we have such large numbers doing useless degree's.

Only the simple-minded would regard, say, a dustman doing a hard days work, as stupid.

Paul Halsall said...

I don't think nursing, accountancy, etc. are Mickey Mouse courses, but I do take the point about the academisation of what should really be training courses. I think the figure of 50% of the pop going to university was always a bit of an overreach.

Meanwhile I am now teaching, part time, medieval history at the University of Manchester. I cannot say that I find students less prepared than say my classmates at Edinburgh 35 years ago, nor that they work less hard. Most will probably use their history degree to go into some profession that requires rapid review of a lot of information and the ability to structure that information into useful form (i.e. the essential skills taught by a history degree.)

Neither at Edinburgh nor now at Manchester do I see that coursework radicalizes students - many of who seem rather apolitical (then and now).

What radicalized me when I was at University (since I voted Tory in 1979) was becoming a Roman Catholic and ultimately deciding that the "self-interest is good" basis of Right-Wing thought was incompatible with faith in Christ.

Libertarian said...

If anyone every listened to those of us who actually create the jobs they would have known this years ago.

I speak as someone who is both an employer and involved with a leading university

Span Ows said...

Paul

What radicalized me when I was at University (since I voted Tory in 1979) was becoming a Roman Catholic and ultimately deciding that the "self-interest is good" basis of Right-Wing thought was incompatible with faith in Christ.


You have to have interest in self to be able to help others. If you can't help yourself you certainly won't be helping others. Jesus knew that; the parable of the Good Samaratan was about a wealthy guy, but good.

Danny Law said...

hang on a bit everyone - what is this idea of quotas on higher education. whether it is Labour's arbitary 50% or those on the right saying 25%.

also disagree with iain's comment about 470 000 students saying is it possible they are all up to a doing a degree.

this is all so similar to the arguments against universal education back in the 19th century. what people are saying is why educate the masses. what's the point. they cant all get good jobs.

education should not just be about getting jobs. back in the 19th century it was often said it was better to train the working class in a skill than teach them pointless skills like history and geography. no education in such frivolities should be just for an elite.

yet these naysayers were ignored (eventually) and look at the better educated society we now have. is it really better to go back to the start of the 20th century when only a tiny elite got to univeristy. i bet i would not have gone then as would a lot of others on this forum.

there are many arguments as to why educating everyone has advantages for a society. but i will give just one.

an educated society is much less likely to be a bigoted society. if you understand about the world around you you are much less likely to be taken in to hate one type of people or a group within society. ignorance is the very best soil to lay the seed of hatred in.

ah but you say. this is higher education. not education in general. but that is an arbitary line to draw. why is it ok to educate someone to A level but not any further. who says where the cut off line is.

a better educated society knows how to ask questions and not accept any old rubbish they are fed either by politicans or religious fanatics.

in my opinion all that want a higher education should have one. and it should be free.

of course the results of restricting free higher education are not felt immeadialty. they are felt 10, 15 years down the line. i will be interested to see how these costs for students will now effect our country and society in 20 years time.

finally its a bit rich for people like me and iain and david
(millionaire) cameron to say modern students should pay for their higher education when we all got it free (plus a grant thrown in for good measure too)

hightory.com said...

It's a relief to see some good sense at last. I've written about it too: http://hightory.com/2010/11/24/a-simple-solution-to-university-funding/

Tim Footman said...

MichaelCP: Sorry, was being a little facetious. The "thick" to whom I was referring are not those who do not aspire to higher education, but those who see it as their right (usually by virtue of their social status/wealth, or that of their parents) but really aren't up to scratch. Would "non-academic" be a better, fairer adjective? Yes, I think it might.

NameHere said...

The question isn't just what percentage are capable of doing a degree, but also what percentage of jobs truly require one.

The devaluation of degrees has lead to far too many jobs asking for degrees when they don't truly need it. They didn't need it 10, 15 years and it's doubtful such jobs have got harder. I can understand why students would be angry getting all the debt for a middling job.

The reality is most of us will end up in mid-level jobs for which on-job training will suffice. Personally, although I'm no fan of beating up business, perhaps we should have some form of charge/tax for everybody job they claim needs a degree. It'd sort that problem out quicker than any changes to universities ...

Jess The Dog said...

There are now a third more UK students now compared to the mid-90s. In particular, more politics and media studies students (25,000 of each) than chemistry (16,000) or physics (13,000) students....nearly double the former two compared with the latter two! Politics has increased by 44%, media studies by 256%, and cinematics by 350%. Chemistry has decreased by 26%, as has engineering overall by 24%. This is disastrous in terms of our skill base. There is a place for these courses, which do include academic rigour and some high profile institutions, contrary to popular perception, but the requirements in academia and employment for graduates of these disciplines (plus research income) does not justify the extent to which they have grown. It's wasted money in terms of productivity and cultural value. A silver lining to this cloud is that maths and medical and bio-sciences numbers have increased.

DespairingLiberal said...

Agreed, but who was it who cut back on the many tens of thousands of prized vocational technical apprenticeships we used to have in the UK which had to be replaced with something? It was of course the Thatcher government, who were proud to cut off support for them. Industry it was stated would take up the slack - they did no such thing. Only now, after New Labour introduced some mild support, has it started once again on a small scale.

Truly university is not for everyone and even less is a sort of faux-universitiat of revised technical colleges (another Tory innovation), but what else is on offer? I assume if we cut that too, young people are simply expected to emigrate, Ireland-style?

Tim said...

Talking of 'useless degrees,' I remember quite a few years ago people were mocking the introduction of 'golf studies' and I have to admit that I too was a little amused.

Then some years later, these golf studies graduates found that they had a surprise advantage over other 'traditional' graduates; they were offered positions with golf clubs eager to take advantage of their skills. Different is not always bad.

Anthony said...

I have made an argument like this before, and I also put it in a student newspaper.
http://www.bathimpact.com/content/higher-education-funding-debate-case-fewer-students

haddock said...

Unsworth said...What use is a Media Studies degree in the real world?

indeed.

the rot sets in earlier with places such as 'sports colleges' ( used to be called secondary schools) .... how many people does a country need with qualifications in 'sports science'

..... 27 ?

.... 12 ?

none ?

Eddie 180 said...

Unfortunately it is not just students that now feel a degree is necessary, employers often seem to believe this is so too. The result is that employers often require a degree level education, even though the job does not really require it.

Perhaps we have reached this stage because of the poor level of education that GCSE's demand, and so a handful of GCSE's are no guarantee of a reasonably bright, able person.

As for student fees, I do have some sympathy with their plight. Why should new Graduates face fees when previous ones did not?

Just like the Labour Government wants to pass the debt they have accumulated on to future generations, past graduates are happy to pass their costs onto future graduates too.

The solution is to impose an increased National Insurance charge on employers that have graduates on the payroll.

That would be a charge to all current graduates, so would represent a far bigger pool, that could be taxed immediately, to pay for future graduates education.

The employers would in future seriously consider whether a job demanded a higher level of education, and so may well open up the prospect of non graduates being able to compete.

Those taking degrees would be more likely to only take degrees where the degree would clearly add value to their employability, so reducing the numbers wishing to take a degree.

Over time it may be that salaries for graduates would be slightly reduced, to cover the employers additional costs, so the burden of a degree level of education would be fairly met by those that benefit from it - employers who take on graduates, and the graduates themselves.
Nobody need fear applying to go to university because of the cost of tuition fees, and subsequent debt.

Equally past generations would be helping to fairly meet the burden for the future.

Degrees in nonsense subjects would no longer be desirable, as those taking them would risk pricing themselves out of the employment market.

It is a market solution to a problem that would have no up front Government financing costs because of the existing pool of graduate employees meeting the cost.

Unsworth said...

@ Paul Halsall

I do hope you're teaching your students to use an English spell-checker. Yours seems to be American.

Do you think that Roman Catholicism includes 'radicalisation? I think not.

Paul said...

You make a number of errors Iain- arbitrarily concluding that 43% in Uni is too high (pulling standards out of air, or elsewhere); assigning business (absurdly) the role of deciding whether the education system works (a guarantee of short-sightedness and eventual ignorance); and forgetting that the world of 2010 and beyond demands a more educated population. In terms of national competitive advantage, the spoils of global competition will go to the victors of the education race. (The US lead in sci-tech - soon to be given up - is related to the huge 1950s and 60s investment in basic science.) Apprenticeship isn't an 'OR' it is an 'AND'.

Unsworth said...

Despairing Liberal

What is the point of apprenticeships if there is no industry to employ these people?

Cart and Horse.

John Moss said...

Let the market decide. No fee cap, no soft loans, no minimum income on repayement.

JoeF said...

Totally agree. Also many marginal people go to Uni and drop out- but still get counted as "went to uni"- many Unis have drop out rates over 20%.

Also we need to get rid of the commie running Charities Commission who is now threatening Unis- as she has already been private schools- with losing charitable status (which could well mean closure, as they would lose their property) if not "inclusive".

trevorsden said...

Mr Halsall - I see nothing wrong with a History degree or in the theory that a University education trains the mind.

But for the examples you quote would not a MBA degree not be more appropriate?

Is this not what is wrong? Should not the Universities be providing the sort of degrees that will be useful for industry and commerce. Indeed should not engineering degrees include an MBA element or degree holders follow up with MBA type study?

Instead I see university education regarded as a tiresome period before going on a gap year. Yes I know ... sarcasm is the lowest form of humour.

Elby the Beserk said...

I believe West Germany used our education system as it was after the war, as the model from which to build their own. CFE (Trade/Blue collar), Polys (Emphasis on the technical rather than the academic), Uni (Academic study of a subject).

To pretend to children that they are all the same and can achieve the same does them no favours whatsoever.

Labour dismantled this tri-partite model. Germany use it to this day.

Make what you may of that.

kris said...

"What happens to 18 year olds when they leave school?"

Here's a novel idea: Get a trade.

A friend is a solicitor. His nephew is an electrician. Guess who makes more money and works for himself?

These "students" should wake up to the fact that the professions are awash with graduates.

Sobers said...

A small snapshot of life as a newly qualified graduate in the UK 2010:

I ran into 3 young people in the pub the other day, who I know from playing cricket. They have all just (this summer) graduated from various universities around the country. All have good degrees, one with honours.

Their current jobs are: working in Argos, in the warehouse, working in a call centre and working as an office junior in a building society. None earn much above minimum wage.

How exactly has their 3 years of debt building helped them build a career? They would have been better to have left school at 16. By now they'd have more experience, higher pay and more idea of what direction their lives should take.

I suggest that no-one be allowed to attend university until age 25. That would allow people to experience life, and get some idea of what interests them, and what career they might want to pursue, They could then use their university education to further that career, rather than doing a degree in some fairly randomly chosen subject.

hatfield girl said...

If what is on offer from English universities is too expensive or not suitable there are lots of other countries in the world with good universities to go to. There is usually quite a high academic threshold to clear before entry of course, but they don't cost more than English universities do now.

Why are students so unadventurous except for gapping about?

Libertarian said...

@despairing liberal

As usual you are totally wrong. The vast majority of apprenticeship schemes were abandoned in the 1970's. Following pressure from the TUC to protect the jobs and pay scales of their members. Vast industries went bust/nationalised by Wilson and Callaghan which also ended apprenticeships in ship yards, steel mills, docks, mines and car manufacturing.

When Thatcher came to power in 79 the tories introduced the national curriculum and raised the school leaving age specifically because kids had stopped getting apprenticeships.

You cant use your tripe socialist propaganda against us workers who were actually THERE at the time going through this

Lady Finchley said...

I think some people are missing the point here althouhg I agree that university numbers are way too high. I always understood that the university experience was supposed to be one where the student's mind is opened to new ideas, where they learn to think, research and study. Unless it is a 'profession' like medicine I didn't think it was an automatic guarantee of a particular kind of job.

Why is it taboo to say that it is clear that probably only half of the 45% who do go to universities have this intellectual capacity? Of course it is the students who have this capacity who are suffering as a result of the inflated numbers as the quality of the lecturers is appalling. My friend's son is in despair at the poor quality of teaching - he is a student at a well regarded, though very liberal University of London college. Resources are being spread way too thin, students are not getting the courses they applied for and drop out rates are way too high. But how to turn back the clock?

Employers still value a degree - I am self taught but not having a degree has held me back in my professional life. I fear any change will take years but agree we must do it.

Clive said...

Elby,

Labour dismantled this tri-partite model. Germany use it to this day.

The Polytechnics disappeared courtesy of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Which was a piece of Tory legislation. The bottom line is that successive governments, both Tory and Labour, have failed to address the country's true needs for jigher education.

David said...

This government wants loads of students for the same reason as the last - it hides unemployment.

Wilson Cotton said...

Higher education was another of those ticking time bombs left behind by Labour. I just wish the younger generation had the sense to see what an amoral, cynical bunch of incompetents they were and realised where the true blame lies. The expansion of higher education in this country was one of the biggest cons ever perpetrated on the younger generation.
Let's not forget that it was Mandelson in the final year of that benighted regime who slashed funding leading to the closure of some of the top humanities departments in the country. Kings London has closed its classics department, whilst Oxford has had to defer development of the Radcliffe Infirmary site by three years to enable colleges to try and drum up endowments for teaching posts.
Meanwhile at the politicised Charity Commission Dame Suzy Leather still pursues Labour's social agenda and now threatens the older universities with loss of charitable status.

DespairingLiberal said...

@Libertarian, pretty mental of you to blame the collapse in manufacturing on 70s Labour - and I was there, so don't pull that one. You are talking absolute rubbish as usual. It was Thatcher's Employment and Training Act of 1981 that terminated the training grants to companies that had been the bedrock of the apprenticeships system. I well remember the radio and TV debates of the time on it and Tory mouthpieces saying industry would pick it up. They didn't.

This isn't the only facsimile of Thatcherite rhetoric we are getting from the current lot. The attack on universities and "bogus" degrees (eg, the arts, humanities, reading, writing, etc) are straight out of the Alan B'stard hymnal by way of Gove and Lord Young. The latter was a mainstay of right-wing frothing on those subjects in the early 80s. Another blast from the past.

It can't be long now before we invite some foreign dictatorship to take over a rock somewhere so we can launch the war to end all wars and prove British supremacy once more. Although it will be hard to see Clegg being allowed to get some of the overflowing joy that will result in the Daily Murdochs. That man has to go, and will. It's a matter of time.

bewick said...

Unsworth said...

@ Paul Halsall

I do hope you're teaching your students to use an English spell-checker. Yours seems to be American.

Actually Unsworth try typing "labour" into the "leave your comment" box. You will find that IT, like most comments boxes, uses American spelling and will red line the word. That may well persuade some to believe they have misspelled the word and change it.

Overtiredandemotional said...

As several contributors have said, the question is what type of higher education is needed?

Our lamentable universities are partly the result of successive governemtns which thought that manufacturing did not matter and gave no serious thought to education and training for people who would like the work in it.

The result is that manufacturers find it hard to recruit quality young people; they are, in effect, left with the dregs to choose from.

The government should work with local employers to provide good courses which turn out what is wanted. The idea is not new; in the nineteenth century is was the genesis of popular higher education, and pretty revolutionary at the time.

Unniversities should not, as a rule, be about vocational training. If they turn out decent chemists, linguists or classicists who can think, then the rest will take care of itself.

allnottinghambasearebelongtous said...

Both the increase in student numbers and the transformation of polys into unis was Conservative policy before New Labour was a twinkle in Blair's eye. Increased student numbers was a key justification for the introduction of loans and the polys had all gone by 1992.

Unsworth said...

@ bewick

Is that so? It never happens when I make comment. Indeed there's no spell-check at all - sometimes to my chagrin.

But tell me more.

In the meantime, Mr Halsall professes to be a teacher of some sort. My point was that it is incumbent upon him to ensure that his information is presented to the best of his ability. I now think it fair to assume it is, and hope his students realise and make allowances for this.

Oh, and here we go: Labour Labour Labour. See?

Andy JS said...

I think the problem is that telling anyone - even just one person - that they can't go to university is one of those things that has been placed on the list of "nasty party" utterances, along with the sort of true but unpalatable statements that the likes of Lord Young come out with from time to time.

I think we've got to try and get back to a position where people who tell uncomfortable truths are looked up to and taken seriously, rather than sneered at or ignored.

................................. said...

"It's not very often I say this. In fact I have never said this before"
Gosh, that really isn't very often, Iain...

Spenny said...

I agree with Mary's article, and your support of it.

However, let's not forget why the university intake shot up so much in the first place.

1) It allowed Blair to keep unemployment figures down.

2) It allowed the private sector to shed professional training costs to universities, as providers, and to students, as (ugh) consumers.

Then the latter have the brass necks to say people aren't skilled enough because they're doing too much theory... er, well yeah the theory side is what makes it actually a degree rather than a training diploma - a necessary amount of 'academic rigour'.

If companies want proerly trained people, well they should assume the cost and hosting of training, not the prospective employee.

javelin said...

Back in the 1980s when I went to Manchester and Sussex Uni I remember talking to Poly students and they just weren't as intellectually versitile or sharp minded as the Uni students. You just see it in their eyes.

I went to a pretty rubbish comprehensive - it was the first post 11+ in take. Then I went to a technical college that today has the lowest value add in Surrey. The top half of the top class at my comprehensive went on to Universities (inc Oxbridge), the bottom half of the bottom class went onto prison (including a Krays cell mate). But I got really good O levels (13), A levels (4) and degrees (2). But only because I grafted.

To think that the Poly students are now at the University and the A-Level failures are now at the old Polys makes me weep. Do the old poly students really understand Kant, Chaucer and fluid dynamics at the age of 20? Even the top 2% of students struggled to wrap their heads round gestalt existentialism at that age. We haven't evolved since then = so degrees must have dumbed down.


For me its more about grafting and motivation than cognitive ability. The top academic courses have been set by the top academics and can really only be understood by the top kids. There are courses that are not degree level that also require grafting and hard work that would be appreciated by employers that don't require understanding to a deep philosophical level.

Forlornehope said...

Germany has one of the lowest levels of graduates in Western Europe. It is clearly a massive disadvantage to their competitiveness in the modern world.

norman said...

Iain
I agree with you 100%.
Even if vocational training scholarships are available, there are no institutions to offer courses for these as former polytechnics were "upgraded" to universities by John Major in 1992. The directors of these polytechnics were tired of being controlled by LEAs and hatched the plan of liberation from these LEAs and doubling their pay at the same time. When they became universities, the directors of polytechnics became vice chancellors and LEA oversight disappeared and weak governor teams took over. These post-92 universities dropped all courses related to vocational training which they developed for decades and dropped the strong vocational training ethos. In their places, they introduced useless business studies, media studies etc..

There has to be a minimum AAA requirements at A levels for loans and admission to universities. Introduce entrance examinations. Revert the post-92s to the polytechnic status.

Unsworth said...

@ javelin

"For me its more about grafting and motivation".

I think you're largely right. So, what made you graft, what was your motivation?

Chalcedon said...

I think numbers of students going to univesity should be in the region of 7%-10%. the most able school students. Any more than this suggests universities are not being rigorous enough with their degree courses. An academic degree should be very difficult and demanding.

Unsworth said...

@ Chalcedon

Yes, yes, but universities are now business enterprises - rather than cloistered seats of learning. This is about money, not intellect.