Thursday, June 10, 2010

Furthering education

A couple of things caught my eye on the news this morning. The first was the suggestion that university tuition fees will have to rise and the second was something about Britain's status as one of the world's leading science and research nations is in decline.

They both caught my eye individually, but the curious thing is that they are, in my opinion, related.

First of all, you would think that with more and more youngsters entering university these days that our science and research traditions would be boosted, wouldn't you? But they are not - and the reason is that, although more and more children go on to university, fewer and fewer are studying degrees of serious academic worth.

The second thing that bothers me - and is something which I've been ranting about for a long time - is the fact that I can not stand the way my generation are depriving future generations of the things we had access to and enjoyed - and one of those was the student grant system. The majority of MPs in parliament who went through university probably did so at a time when students got grants to study - instead of student loans which leave them up to their necks in debt before they even start their careers.

I just don't think it's right that the people who took advantage of a benefit should be the ones who deprive the next generation of that benefit to just suit their own political and personal ambitions.

The truth is that we need to get people into university and get them studying worthwhile degrees that will bring long term benefits to this country - medicine, physics, chemistry, engineering and so on. I think the government should identify a few core degrees such as these, plus a few of the "classics" and offer student grants (not loans and free from tuition fees) for anyone studying these degrees at an approved university.

This will do two things. It will encourage more of the most able people to study degrees that will benefit the nation in the longer term, but have fallen out of favour - and this, in turn, will boost our science and research fields.

If other children want to go and study media studies, pop music or social science then they can have the student loans and pay tuition fees.

I also believe that the whole point of university is to educate the brightest and the best - and the sad fact is that, in any society, the brightest and the best is unlikely to be much more than 30% of the population - so that should be the benchmark target for children going on to university.

Of course I want to see the other 70% of children getting further education when they leave school - but I think that is best served through a combination of technical colleges, incentivized employer sponsorships and day release - not state financed mickey mouse degrees.

9 comments:

engliscdragon said...

I was saying about the core STEM subjects being needed more in Universities the other day, our industry just does not have the number of people to fill the current roles let alone future expansion http://engliscdragon.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/stem-stem-stem/

The thing I did think about was whether they could use tuition fees as a sort of gate to getting more people into key subjects. Free university places for some degrees, each year review whether subjects need to be added or removed, depending on the economies needs in specific subjects.

wonderfulforhisage said...

Up to a point Lord Stan.

My guess is that were your idea to be adopted the vast majority of applicants highly enough qualified for these more demanding subjects would be from private schools.

Then you'd have the situation where the children of parents who can afford private education would be the majority of those receiving grants paid for by the taxpayer.

That would put the cat amongst the pigeons.

Stan said...

We seem to be on the same wavelength, engliscdragon.

wonderfulforhisage - that's why we'd need academic selection at around 11/12. Then you'd get the majority of people going into university coming from state schools.

The really annoying thing is that it is what we had and it worked. Then along came the liberal progressives and wrecked it - and now they want to charge those they wrecked it for!

That's the trouble when you design your education system to promote some social agenda rather than impart knowledge and advance the nation.

Chalcedon said...

39 years ago (bloody hell) I went to university. with a grant. but back then only a small percentage of the population went to university. With the massive expansion of new universities and the encouragement of government to keep school pupils off the unemployment register a much larger proportion attend these days. Many reading low grade undemanding subjects. We just can't afford a grant to all these kids!

Stan said...

That's my point, Chalcedon - it's ridiculous to try and get 50% of school leavers into university - a) because we can't afford it and b) because it is stupid to assume that 50% of school leavers will have the academic skills and potential to get worthwhile degrees. So we end up having to charge them for their education and they end up with a degree that isn't worth the paper it's printed on. They leave education with high debt and low expectations and end up working as shop assistants at B&Q.

My argument is that you shouldn't expect 50% of school leavers to go to university - it should be set at a limit of around 30% - but not all of that 30% would qualify for grants. Only those who choose certain degrees (and have the qualifications to study those degrees) would get grants - those who want to study media studies or advanced pshychobabble - would have to fund it themselves through student loans and tuition fees.

Of course, all this is dependent on other factors - that we have selective secondary education (to ensure that we are identifying the brightest and the best at the earliest opportunity) and that we have a properly balanced industrial economy which provides the jobs for the people that leave school and university whatever their level of education. We have to wise up that some people are never going to be architects, fantastic inventors or innovative entrepreneurs - and it's important that those who won't have jobs they can do, which pay decent wages and which provide the fulfilment each of us needs from a job to give us the feeling of self-worth that makes us decent members of society - and we have to accept that some of those jobs will be repetitive, "menial" jobs working in a factory.

And there is nothing wrong with working in that sort of job, you know. I grew up surrounded by rough, ill-educated men who worked hard shifts in factories and they were amongst the most contented family men you could ever meet - as were the rest of their families.

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Anonymous said...

When my husband died suddenly I gave a donation in his memory to the university we both attended. We had grants of course but then not that many people went in those days. We both came froma very working class background but benefitted from a grammer school education. If everyone who enjoyed these benefits, and who could afford it, did the same, £5,000 in my case, it would be a great endowment for the universities. Certainly all these politicians who benefitted could afford it. I also quite agree that probably only 25% are really equiped for a real academic education.

Stan said...

Sorry about your loss, anon. I think that was a very generous gesture and I agree that those who benefitted from university education should give something back. Of course, these days those who go through the student loan system already do and the rest of us do to some degree through taxation - but I do agree with your point - particularly regarding those who can most afford it.

Personally, I agree that a system that gets one in four school leavers into university and obtaining worthwhile and proper academic degrees is about the best you can seriously expect or hope for.

A system that get one in two into university will have to have a significantly watered down process and expectations to achieve that - and the degrees they get will be worth less (or worthless).