Tony Blair’s goal was to get 50% of the population into further education. This has been taken to mean 50% of the population will have a degree. Which is great for them, because that will put them in the top 10% of earners. Errrrr……
50% of the population in the top 10% of earners is quite a target. And a nice spin-off is that it gets an extra 1.5 million off the unemployed register.
When I did my degree around 50 years ago, only around 5% of the population went to Uni. Although it was a privilege to go to Uni, I did not come from a privileged background (my father was a bus conductor, mother a cleaner). But this was the first generation when it was not too hard for bright kids to get to Uni.
I supported myself with jobs, and I got a small grant (not a loan) and I lived very simply and did not expect too much. I left Uni without debt. Over my career, I have been paid more than the average wage for most of it, paid more than the average taxes and contributed much more than average in real terms to the economy of the country (I worked in manufacturing).
The country got a good deal from me, and probably most others who went to Uni at that time. The country also got a good deal from many of my friends who did not go to Uni, but took apprenticeships, studied for other qualifications and became electricians, plumbers, fitters, joiners, etc. Many also attained degree level jobs without a degree simply by becoming excellent in their chosen field.
Now the target is 50% of kids to go to Uni. TEN TIMES the number compared to 50 years ago. That means we need ten times the number of lecturers, ten times the number of seats in UNI, ten times the admin staff etc.
Ten times the cost? Well No! That is not the way that organizations work. If you increase the number of front line staff (lecturers) you also have to increase the number of their managers, and their managers, and their managers. But these higher level managers are now responsible for many more people and higher budgets so they are paid much higher salaries. (Another niche for fat cats)
The target is for this 50% of the population to start work when they leave college. That is usually at twenty one years old. Forty years ago, most, maybe 85% (my guess) started working at sixteen. So the rest of the productive population has to support 50% for a further 5 years. Or do they?
NOW students don’t get grants, they get loans. This is simply because the country cannot afford to give grants to 50% of the population. We can however afford to pay around 2000 people in the Student Loan Company, an organisation with history of incompetence and questionable financial dealing at the highest levels. (More fat cats)
The loans get paid back in two ways. Firstly when the student gets a paid job he pays taxes. Of course with 50% of the population in the same boat, the average student will just get a job with an average salary and so pay average taxes, which may not cover the cost of his education. But he gets saddled with surtax to pay his loan back. But, not all students will get jobs, and of those that do many will be low paid and so the surtax or even income tax may not be paid.
SO the government is handing out loans which can’t be repaid! This has been proven conclusively by the banks to be a very bad thing.
So should the government is cut back on education? This would generate howls of protest from the Universities (understandably – many staff will lose their jobs) and from the wannabe students whose older friends and siblings got to Uni before the cuts. Also the unemployment rate would soar. So whether or not they should is irrelevant – they won’t.
We have a Tory government, and they will do what they always do and base it on the ability to pay. The well off families will send their kids to the prestige universities, whilst the rest will go to the average Unis leaving with about the same chance of a job as someone with a few GCE “O” levels 40 years ago. The difference is though, that they are now in debt to the government and if they do get a job that pays well, even if it has nothing to do with their degree, they will have to pay the loan back, with interest in their taxes. Recently the government has frozen the threshold salary at which graduates must start repaying the loan. This is in contravention of the conditions on which the students took out the loan, so the government assumes that changing the contract after it is signed is perfectly acceptable.
We’ll gradually slip back to a low percentage going to the prestige Unis – perhaps down to 5% as it was when I went. The remaining 45% will go to Unis who fill the role played by the colleges who taught to ONC, and HNC levels. The 5% will comprise the children of rich folk and a few token brilliant students from poor families.
I’d like to blame the Tories for this, but it was started by New Labour. Both parties plus the Lib Dems have ran with it. It has been a well co-ordinated joint effort. Education is a public right. But like most public services nowadays (water, energy, transport, communications, even prisons) it has been commandeered by the rich to make them even richer.