Thursday, December 09, 2010

Yes, that's all very well, but back in the real world...

Listening to the university fees debate in the House of Commons, I've been half-expecting someone to say, "We lived in a shoe box on a motorway, so I had to lick poison off the landlord's boots to earn a place at university," especially after David Blunkett tried to out-anecdote everyone else. Per-lease! So far, I haven't heard anyone talking much sense, though I did have to go to the loo a few times and tidy up the kitchen. And do any of the MPs persuade anyone else with their prepared speeches, apart from being able to say to their student constituents, and their mummies and daddies, that they did their best? I doubt it.

So, this is how I see it, Madame Deputy Speaker:

There are too many students doing too many courses. Limit the numbers, especially for things like media studies, photography and so on, that have the highest graduate unemployment rates. The market's already saturated with them. You may say that other countries are increasing student numbers, but they're facing similar problems, so expect them to change too.

The argument that a university degree makes you a better, more well-rounded person, with more employment prospects, doesn't seem to be supported by the evidence. It's more important to spend money on education at the bottom end, so that kids study philosophy and are taught to think, and to get rid of specialist schools, academies and GCSEs. Have comprehensives where everyone has to do a broad syllabus, including languages, working towards a Baccalaureate qualification, so there are no easy options. Then universities might not need to spend money on remedial classes for undergraduates whose English and Maths is poor. Refuse entrance to science courses for would-be undergraduates who don't accept that evolution is true - why should anyone waste time on them? Some of these idiots want to be doctors! Raise the standard of teaching, which isn't good enough, and pay teachers more. Incidentally, research has shown that a good teacher isn't necessarily one with a first class degree. His or her personal qualities matter just as much.

Make degrees mean something again, because they're for the brightest and best. The Association of Graduate Recruiters says that we need fewer graduates, and that action must be taken to correct the “devaluation” of degrees in recent years. Degrees seem to be on everyone's wish list, together with owning their own home, having lots of foreign holidays, and more than one car, but never mind the quantity, what about the quality?

Push for more apprenticeships and vocational courses, and more help for would-be entrepreneurs with socially-useful ideas. Raise the so far unmentionable matter of population control; discourage families from having more than two children, with expensive tastes and high expectations.

The numbers are unsustainable. Too many people, too many students, too many courses. We might have been able to afford free tuition for everyone if we weren't in so much debt, if the numbers weren't out of control, if the Labour Government hadn't taken us to war in Iraq (the £9+ billion it's cost us would've come in handy), if the number of undergraduates was kept at a sensible level while ensuring fair access.

The Liberal Democrats have become convenient scapegoats while Tories are happy for them to take the flak and Labour MPs conveniently ignore the fact that they commissioned the Browne Report, and would almost certainly have raised fees if they were still in power. I've never heard so much sanctimonious drivel for .. well, actually, it's not been that long. Do shut up, the lot of you.

PS: While I was blogging, Twitter was frenzied with stuff about the student demo: parents complaining that their schoolkid darlings were at risk of kettling or being trampled by police horses, while being denied their "rights"; others being nasty about the police superintendent who suggested that schoolchildren shouldn't be there; stuff about lighting fires, etc. Meanwhile, @Rose_Darling wrote, "Judging by the VI-formers being interviewed on the BBC right now, I'm wondering whether they should go to uni. They're really inarticulate." Quite. On 24 November the BBC interviewed some students. One said, "This is what happens when they oppress us students for so long." Another said, "Our rights are being impeded on." I'm guessing they were from the remedial class.

15 December - more on devalued degrees. Norwich firm on regional news programme said that despite high unemployment, they have trouble recruiting graduates because they're just not good enough. Was also told last night by someone who's studying for a masters degree while looking for a permanent job that employers look for people with higher degrees because first degrees aren't enough any more.