Thursday, April 09, 2009

About that 50% of school leavers in university thing

Do you think they may have missed a teensy weensy point?

Up to 50,000 sixth-formers will be denied places at university this autumn because of a surge in applications combined with a freeze in undergraduate places.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if our universities weren't full of foreign students and 50 year old liberal lefties doing social science degrees - but what do I know.


Chalcedon said...

When I went to university in 1971 only around 5 - 10% of young people went. Of course we had grants back then. You can afford a grant if only a small percentage of youngsters went up. I had 3 grade A 'A' Levels too in sciences as it was required to read medicine even way back in the dark ages (good grades that is). I don't care what anyone says, academic rigour must have been sacrificed to accommodate 50% of young folks or there are a lot of degrees on offer that differ in their academic robustness compared to more traditional degree subjects and courses.

There were plenty of foreign students in those days too. They paid top whack for the courses.

JuliaM said...

"I don't care what anyone says, academic rigour must have been sacrificed to accommodate 50% of young folks or there are a lot of degrees on offer that differ in their academic robustness..."

If the graduates I've had dealings with recently are any indication, it's a little from column a, a little from column b...

The naturally bright ones lack critical thinking skills. It seems they've never been taught any. And they don't take critiscism well. At all.

Stan said...

I think there should still be grants for certain academic subjects - not for garbage degrees like media studies or social science, but for proper things like mechanical engineering or , indeed, medicine. That way you'll encourage more of the best students to stretch themselves and go for the harder degrees.

The foreign students weren't a problem back then because there were more places available than we could fill ourselves. Even so, I think it was a little more than 5-10% - probably nearer 20%. 1971 -that would have been the same year my oldest brother started at Merton. I was still at junior school and listening to Bolan back then!

Chalcedon said...

JuliaM, I only ever seem to get to talk to students on the phone. They are asking for money for bursaries for the alma mater. They ask me what it was like back in those days before they were born. Pretty much as it is now apart from much better technology of course. They are always pleasant, bright young things but of course we don't tend to have the same background. These young ladies always seem to be from the Dept. of English. We never get to examine critical thinking or analyses of any kind, just chit chat.

So........a little of both. Some degrees are not overtly academic and others watered down a bit. I remember teaching brat students when the course changed to modules. The blighters had forgotten a lot of the stuff from mod1 year 1 when we returned to the subject in year 2. Rather worrying.

TheFatBigot said...

Back before they invented cheese I taught law at a private college. We taught to the London University External LLB. It's a difficult degree because there can be no hints given by the lecturers about the likely content of the exam papers and the marking is strict. I remember those hints when I was a student, they made quite a difference.

Almost all our students were from Commonwealth countries with just a few Brits who had parents wealthy enough to pay the fees.

Foreign students are not a problem, they are a huge source of income for our universities and colleges. They don't take places from home students, they pay for places for home students.

The problem, to my mind, is three-fold.

First, the higher the percentage of youngsters admitted to university the lower you have to set the bar for university entry.

Secondly, the lower the bar for university entry, the lower the universities have to set the bar for degrees.

Thirdly, there is pressure on the universities to award more 1sts and 2:1s to preserve their position in league tables.

The overall result is that more people get degrees and more people get "good" degrees, but all degrees are devalued.

In reality nothing really changes. There are extremely clever people, very clever people, clever people, not so clever people, not at all clever people and thick people. It's always been the case and will always be the case.

Any manipulation of university entrance requirements cannot turn a clever person into a very clever person or a not so clever person into a clever person.

All that can be achieved is to give false hope to the youngsters who are told they are cleverer than they are. Eventually the message will get through when they are exposed to the harsh world of work. By that time they might be thousands of pounds in debt and facing a very difficult future.

Sport provides a good comparator. It is impossible to relax the entry requirements without sacrificing the level of performance. Some people reach their limit in the Conference, some make it to the Third Division (known, I believe, as the First Division today), some make it to the Premiership.

If they haven't got what it takes at a higher level they are soon moved on to a lower league. It doesn't mean they are bad players it just means they have to earn their living at a standard appropriate to their talents.

You can't turn a lower league player into a Premiership star just by saying it must be so. And, far more importantly, you won't do him in favours by trying.

Stan said...

I quite agree, FB. I've posted before on the question of elitism that it is not only desirable, but necessary for any nation to progress. Unless you find the elite footballers you won't win The Premiership and unless you find the elite doctors, engineers, scientists and physicists your nation will be strictly third division.

Is that unfair? Of course not! Everyone has the same opportunity through state education, but as you rightly point out, not everyone is suited to being a top lawyer - but if you make no effort to find the best and, having made that effort, fail to give them the opportunity to make the best of what they have got then you are letting down not only those people but the nation itself. That is why you need rigorous selection and tough examinations. The SAS is the best armed forces unit in the world - it is also the toughest to get into. That's not a coincidence.

As for the rest of us - well, I never went to university, but I make a decent living. I have friends and relatives who went through the secondary modern system and now make £100K a year or more. I have friends and relatives who went through grammar school and university and make peanuts. At the end of the day, the state can only do so much - it is down to us to play the hand we're dealt.