Monday, 16 January 2012

I Melt the Glass with my Forehead

I've spent some time this evening watching a documentary with the estimable title "I melt the glass with my forehead".  It's about the (mostly) recent history of the route to moving to £9000 tuition fees for University education in England.  I don't agree with all the commentators necessarily, but it seems pretty reasonable, and is quite damning of the process.  It's slightly more equivocal about the outcome, but not a great deal.

I'm no fan of the new system.  I found myself chiming with the quoted words of Lord Robbins, chair of an old review of higher education, who said that he thought education should be available to all who need it.  I don't see higher education as a commodity, as if it were only a matter of getting training to get a higher salary, and that no other benefit to society as a whole were gained.  Or as if there were a dividing line between A-level and a degree, after which education is selfish. This is the most insidious point in all the arguments that are ever made, I think.  One commentator in the documentary said that Oxford could charge £25k fees, so students there were effectively being subsidised.  I doubt that I would have gone there from my comprehensive school if the fees were like that.  The market is not the only way to see the world.   If you really believe that the point of education is to make the people that have it richer, then support progressive taxation.  If you don't, stop using all that money from the poor hardworking families to support schools.


  1. While I've always loved the fact that the UK university system was free, I can understand why one would create an imaginary "dividing line between A-level and a degree." In the US, for instance, schooling is free until the age of 18, when you graduate from high school and are - ostensibly by definition - capable of getting and retaining a job (current job market notwithstanding).
    College isn't a commodity - it's a privilege. Not everyone gets to attend a college or university, and this is at least partly because not everyone deserves it, or needs it. In the US, we have a wealth of college graduates who want cushy, low-effort jobs as store managers and investment bankers and human resources representatives and all the other things we don't really require to exist. Where are the high school graduates who are willing to become welders and electricians and plumbers and dairy farmers and the other kinds of careers that our society actually needs?
    So when you quote Lord Robbins, saying that "education should be available to all who need it," you have to ask what level of education. Does everyone in the UK need a university education? Is society really bettered by an overabundance of citizens with college degrees in business economics or tourism management or film studies? Or is A-level enough to make a successful life for yourself?

  2. I don't think that everyone needs a university education by any means, or that we should push for that, but I think that, at least in the UK, Universities have become commodities. Fundamentally, I think that's what I object to the most. I don't like that they are seen as purely a means to get a better job, though I do also think that one could use the fact that many jobs ask for degree-level qualifications mean that one could push the dividing line higher, if I were arguing with someone who views them as commodities.

    I want to live in a society where there are experts in esoteric and useless things. I think Stewart Lee said all this much better than I, in a different context here