Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Education, Education,Education = Debt, Debt, Debt

So after Labour went ahead and pushed through a whole raft of changes in the funding of university education, the universities themselves are now crying out for more money.

Now I'm not university educated (I had no choice but to go out and get a job at 16), but I would like to think that a decently state funded education system, free to the user with fair access to all is the only option. I argued when fees were first mooted that changing the system into a fee-based one, would cause inordinate problems. The only advantage I could see is to the government, in that they would have another public sector job-creation scheme (or one they could farm out to their mates in the private sector) introducing the department to handle fees, student loans, funding, debt recovery, etc.

I did say at the time that saddling a teenager with several thousand pounds worth of debt is obscene. It doesn't matter if payment is deferred, that student loan debt is there for life until paid. I also said it was more to do with politics than education: a back door way to reduce funding to universities without a backlash on the government. The scenario being that universities switch to a mainly fee-based system, so any shortfall between government grants and actual costs is met by fees. If the shortfall is too great, the universities have to increase fees. Its a decision the universites take, the government can wash its hands and deflect blame. Basically if university education is too expensive for the poor, blame the toffs in the universities.

The other strand to justify student loans was that graduates on the whole earn more money, so should pay back the cost of their privileged education. But if they earn more, they pay more in taxes, so were already putting more back into the exchequer anyway, so the argument was spurious. But a university education isn't a privilege, a regular stream of well educated graduates in the right jobs are something the country needs.

A working, fully funded education system is a neccessity. It is a strateigic resource, the same as weapons, or reserves of money. If we screw education up, we screw the nation up. Our ability to compete with other nations is crippled if we don't have a cache of properly educated people at our disposal. The government AND the educational establishments AND industry need to understand this fact. Government needs to provide proper funding of education with less meddling, the educational establishments need to raise their game and provide a world-class education for students of all ages and abilities and industry needs to stop accepting a degree just as a glorified GCSE. It needs to explain to government and industry why gratuates are being misused in vocational positions.

Currently our education system is failing at all levels, you can see it just anecdotally by the way business now routinely picks better educated foreign youngsters above home grown. You can also see it by the way home grown graduates are put into unsuitable positions that should really be filled by vocational streams.

It needs sorting before we cripple the country for a generation or more.

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