This report about the poor quality of some UK undergraduates attracted my attention this morning.
I was lucky enough to go to university in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The tuition was free and I received a full grant for three years as an undergraduate and another year as a postgraduate. My brothers and I were the first people in our family to go to university.
However, when I was at university only about 14% of school students went to university. The Major government decided to end the distinction between universities and polytechnics and the Blair government set an arbitrary target of 50% of school leavers attending university. This has created this situation (from the article linked above)…
“Many academics believe that slipping standards are to blame, with one lecturer from a red brick university telling the survey: “Each year, the entry requirements for undergraduate programmes are reduced, meaning we get a high number of students who are almost illiterate.””
As someone who has worked in secondary schools for a quarter of a century, I know that a university education is not for everyone. Indeed, some people struggle with the GCSE curriculum. What we need is investment in quality technical and vocational education at post-14, post-16 and post-18 level. It is vital that we break out of the one-size-fits-all academic education that dominates too many schools.
So why do governments, both Conservative and Labour, continue to direct people towards a university education that does not suit them? In part it is because of the ongoing snobbery against people who gets their hands dirty doing their job. In the UK, a lawyer is considered somehow superior to an engineer; the reverse is true in Japan. If one were to be cynical, one could say the government is trying to keep unemployment figures down. If one were really cynical, one would say the universities are deliberately milking students of fees to replace the funding they don’t get from the government.
Puts an interesting spin on some of the poisonous debates in 2016 when the “most educated” were more likely to vote in a certain way. The clear implication was “we are more intelligent, that’s why we voted this way.” You have to ask yourself, what’s so clever about running up a minimum £27,000 debt to get a pointless degree from an ex-poly and ending up working at Starbucks for minimum wage?