Posted by: Admin | November 8, 2010

The true cost/benefit ratio of Higher Education

Behind the smiles - financial anxiety

If there’s one thing that raises my blood pressure, it’s the ongoing degradation of our higher education system. A skilled, educated workforce that can compete in a global marketplace is patently vital to economic recovery, and yet this government, like the last, seems incapable of long term planning.

Proud - if broke - parents

With the announcement that universities are to be allowed to charge up to £9,000 fees per year has come a clamour of protest, from both sides of the argument. At that cost, a bog standard, three year bachelor degree would cost a student around £36,000 (allowing for £3,000 maintenance per year, which would need to be supplemented with a part time job). The government proposes that student loans be allowed to run for up to 30 years, thus acknowledging that many graduates will be paying off student loans until they are in their fifties.

The argument is that the higher earning power of graduates warrants the cost, but with graduate unemployment soaring (partly due to the last governments ill-advised drive to get unprecedented numbers of young people into higher education) and graduate salaries falling, that argument barely holds water.

Prospective students from low income families will still be subsidised, those from high income families will be ok. It’s those in the middle – and their parents – that will really feel the pinch. Grants are means-tested which is fair enough, but there is no account taken of how many children there are in the family. Thus in our family, for example, four children went to university, but our income was only assessed as if for one. I can’t tell you the relief that tinged the regret when two of them decided not to continue through to graduation!

How is it fair that, if loans don’t have to be paid back until a graduate occupies one of these “higher earning” positions, that those from lower income backgrounds have to pay back less? There’s a difference between levelling the playing field and penalising those with middle-income backgrounds.

We’ve talked before on project50 about the ethical side of allowing young people to start their adult lives in such horrendous debt. Obviously, we are long past the days when higher education can be provided free of charge. However, surely it is time to look at ways of mitigating matters? With some courses offering a mere 8 hours contact time a week, the introduction of two year degree courses seems eminently sensible. We also need to look at other ways of educating our workforce outside academia. “Day release” college course and old fashioned apprenticeships can all be offered by forward thinking employers.

What does all this have to do with turning 50? Well, we ARE the employers, the parents and, in some cases, the decision makers. Preserving the educational system in this country should be a priority. Promoting and protecting our young people is our collective responsibility.

I’ll climb off my soapbox now, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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Responses

  1. When I was young I did not like being in debt. I still don’t like being in debt so I’m not. My daughter says that going into debt for her education was worth it. I question that. It just means you have a job that maybe pays more money so you can buy more things about which you are unhappy. I don’t know the answer but I think young people are being had.

  2. hey – great to see you again, oldfool!

    When our children were growing up we made education a number one priority and moved hell and high water to make sure they all had a good one. I don’t regret that, insofar as no one can take a good education away from you once you have it. But I seriously question the value of the qualifications they have when they don’t translate into decent jobs.

    Enjoying your autobiography on your blog, btw. 😉

  3. Education seems to be the topic of the day today. The comments on this blog are most interesting on the subject of education in general. http://thequincetree65.blogspot.com/2010/11/falling-leaves-and-falling-standards.html

    Jo, you have articulated what a lot of parents are feeling as, yet again, the government appears to be legislating against the middle classes. You made a very interesting comment when we were talking the other day abvout how some university courses are actually, functionally, apprenticeships. Whilst this is useful and marvellous, maybe if these young people were ACTUALLY serving an apprenticeship in a real company, it would mean that universities could concentrate properly on the more academic or scientific subjects, instead of dissipating their energies with pointless degrees. This would result in fewer people wanting places and maybe those for whom it was appropriate could then access that education more cheaply or, heaven forbid, for nothing. Except it isn’t for nothing. The country can only benefit from having properly educated professionals. Who knows, if there there was less pressure on the universities, maybe we could afford to train teachers to spell and learn a bit of grammar?

  4. Thank you, WH, for joining the debate. I feel very sad that there no longer seems to be any concept of learning for learning’s sake – probably because we can no longer afford it – but I think we’re much poorer as a society as a result.


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