Home > General Politics > What are students for again?

What are students for again?

Recently Giles at Freethinking Economist had an interesting post about the need to ‘free the market’ for universities and allow the introduction of variable tuition fees.  As ever with Giles’ posts, despite his utter liberal numptiness his argument is well-made and sourced, and  he also links to two documents produced by Julian Astle for his liberal think-tank ‘Centre Forum’: a paper from November 2008 arguing the case for the LibDems dropping their opposition to tuition fees, and one from 2006 arguing a wider case for a fee-based system in the context of greatly increased numbers of students. 

I’ve now had time to read both papers.  I can’t pretend to do them full justice here, other than to note that they are excellently written and well researched; the 2006 paper even gives a very helpful account of the recent history of the stage-by-stage move from a grant system to a loan system, the details of which I’ll happily admit I really hadn’t understood properly until recently.

In essence, though, the papers argue that tuition fees are justified because a) there is no evidence that they drive away students from poorer backgrounds b) some of the proposals/systems for ensuring access to university actually end up favouring students from wealthier backgrounds and are, effectively, regressive. 

Instead of pouring money into this part of the system in an effort to fix what doesn’t need fixing, Julian argues, we’d be much better pumping the same money into the bit of the overall system which DOES need fixing: the  inequities and injustices in early years education which lead to young people from poorer backgrounds not getting enough qualification at school in order then to go to university.

The case is well-argued, and I really do recommend reading the papers in full.

But I still have a problem.  Well two problems.  The argument is well made, and I absolutely agree that early years education is what matters most of all, but the argument still rests on two implicit assumptions about university education.

The first assumption is that students should pay for their own education at tertiary level, and that there should and can be be no return to the pre-1990 system of a) no individual fees b) means tested maintenance grants rather than repayable loans (under whatever terms).  While this assumption is implicit in Julian’s paper, Giles makes it explicit in his post:

It makes sense to subsidize it a little,  because good educations yield great externalities for all of us.  But most of the benefit is privately enjoyed, and in a time of fiscal strain it makes sense to charge more for it, rather than tax the less educated.

While this is indeed a commonly held assumption, I’m afraid I don’t buy it. 

Why is university education for a certain percentage of the population deemed to be a private benefit, and therefore chargeable to the individual, while provision of health care to a certain percentage of the population deemed to have enough externalities to make it worth funding through general taxation?

 Indeed, if taken in purely utilitarian terms, it could be argued that the health service has much lower externalities than university education, because most people receive by far their biggest input from the health services when they’re too old to be economically, and perhaps even socially, productive, so that by far biggest share of health is ‘privately enjoyed’. 

I don’t think Giles would argue for the total privatisation of health care, but that is what his logic implies.  While he argues (in the comments) with this logic, saying that we don’t expect food to be totally socialized because it also has externalities, the point is that as a modern welfare state  we do in fact recognise and cater for the externalities of  decent nutrition for all citizens, directly though the Free School Meals programme, for example, and indirectly through benefit payments.  We do this because there is an external benefit to society, over and above the food eaten by individuals, in living in a civilised society where you don’t generally see people starving in the street.

Even  without comparisons, the argument that higher education benefits are ‘privately enjoyed’ simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  Everyone benefits from the fact that people go to university.  As an extreme example, it would be ridiculous to argue that Richard Branson does not benefit from university educations, simply because he didn’t go to university himself.  He benefits directly from the expertise his thousands of university-educated workers provide him ,from his pilots to his lawyers to his media creatives to his accountants.   But it’s not just Richard Branson and his ilk.  I, and everyone around me, benefits from the fact that people who have learned how to do stuff really well, whether it’s build bridge that don’t fall down or write books we like, provide those services to a wider public.  These are all obvious externalities.

Why then, if we are content as part of the post-war welfare statement settlement, to socialize some costs either wholly or partly, on the basis that we all benefit one way or another, are we suddenly so reluctant even to consider a (re)socialization of university costs?

Well, the most obvious reason is that there is now a well-established mindset about taxation which simply puts beyond the pale any concept of paying for people to go for university out of general taxation, and of using progressive taxation to ensure that the rich pay most for universities to do their thing, because they get the most externalized benefit from it whether or not they have been to university themselves (Richard Branson uses lots of lawyers trained at university at no cost to him, while I do not).

Of itself, this makes little sense both for the reasons of externality comparison I set out above, but also because graduate repayments are, as Julian Astle points out in his 2006 paper, pretty well like income tax anyway, though clearly at too flat a rate.  To a great extent, all we’re doing with tuition fee loans and maintenance loans is, at great administrative expense, bolting on a poorly worked out income tax to another slightly less poorly worked out income tax, simply in order to avoid call it an income tax.

The ”repayments’ into the system you’d get from a general taxation system would in fact be repayable over much the same 25 year period as tuition fees are currently paid by roughly the same people (because higher income generally follows from higher education levels), and the possibility of default is built into the student loan system anyway.

But behind this political unwillingness to countenance general taxation as the key student funding route (the bulk of funding for costs not directly tied to students come from general taxation anyway) lies, I contend, something of much greater concern.

 This is quite simply that the idea of general taxation to fund students is out of keeping with the ideological construct of what it is to be a student – a construct developed in the 1980s under Thatcher but now so deeply embedded in UK society that it is no longer remarked upon as being a key historical development.

This notion of the ideological construction of what it is to be a student links us back to Julian Astle’s second key assumption in his impressive paper  This is that getting more young people from poorer backgrounds into university is THE key task, one which he argues cogently enough not hampered by tuition fees but rather by prior educational opportunity and attainment.

As I’ve said above, that’s fair enough, and I’m all for providing those earlier opportunities.  But for me, getting working class people into university is not THE only issue; the second issue is what they do, and how they identify themselves as students, as and when they get there.

The real hegemonic  brilliance of a move towards individual tuition and maintenance loans during the 1980s was, I contend, that it furthered a process already underway of making students into units of potential economic activity and production.  In so doing, it moved us all, including students, away from an appreciation – either implicit or explicit.  that to be both working class AND part of a ‘student body’ (is that term used at all now) was to be part of the great post-war settlement wrung from capital . In less politicised terms, students came to be seen, and see themselves, not as entitled to an expanding supply of tertiary education whatever their later intentions (or lack of them), but as simply a debtor to society who had to pay back into the system as soon as possible.

And this is where we are today.  Universities themselves are marked in part according to the percentage of people thy feed into the employment.  Students are expected to comply with educational system, as passive learners using ‘learning resource centres’ rather than active students using libraries to investigate the world for themselves and then to challenge it if they see fit.

In a recent post Dave quotes 1968 student radical Daniel Cohen-Bendit:

The student, at least, in the modern system of higher education, still preserves a considerable degree of personal freedom, if he chooses to exercise it. He does not have to earn his own living, his studies do not occupy all his time and he has no foreman at his back. He rarely has a wife and children to feed. He can, if he so chooses, take extreme political positions without any personal danger…the ensuing struggle is especially threatening to the authorities as the student population keeps going up by leaps and bounds.

While Dave quotes Cohn-Bendit disapprovingly in the light of his more recent political failings, this sense of what studentship of this post-war settlement ilk might be about is still worth holding on to.  Being part of a student body SHOULD be about scaring the fuck out of the system with challenging thoughts and actions; it should be about experimentation, whether in philosophy or engineering or even social entrepreneurship.  Such an aspiration shouldn’t even be just a particularly leftwing position.

What we have at the moment, though, as reflected in the tuition fees non-debate, is the tertiary education equivalent of the ‘careers advice’ now being provided to thousands of primary school children – a system where we train young people not to be anything other than their parents.

While this is not all about fees and loans, I would argue that freeing young people from any expectation that they must conform enough to pay back their dues must be an important step in freeing them more generally to, quite literally, ‘think for themelves’.  It is then for the wider left to be in a position, exactly as the French Left WASN’T in a position in the late 1960s for the reasons Dave sets out in his must-read posts, to seek to both influence, and be influenced by any new radicalism – whether philosophical or tactical – that emerges.  The British (and European left) should seek to see its student bodies not as encumbrances, or as cannon fodder, but (perhaps as the Iranian people now see its students) as a great hope worth fostering and supporting.

So, yes, I accept that in one sense Giles and Julian may be talking common sense about tuition fees and the fact that they may enhance widening participation in university education, or at the very least not hinder it (though I note that since I thought about this piece Left Foot Forward has taken a different view on this from Giles in his understandably self-congratulatory post).  In the paradigm of ‘economically useful’ students, they may be talking common sense.  

The challenge for the left, in what I hope will be a continued campaign for the abolition of all fees and loans in favour of free access and payments through general taxation, will be uncommon sense about what students are really for.

Categories: General Politics
  1. freethinkingeconomist
    January 28, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Hi Paul, thanks for the polite references:

    “(Richard Branson uses lots of lawyers trained at university at no cost to him, while I do not).”
    Um, ‘at no cost to him’? No. They get an education that costs, say, £40k. They then get paid, about £40k per year more than they would otherwise. Branson pays it, and his Virgin whatever is presumably better for it. But the lawyers get to keep most of that £40k, and spend it on disgusting lawyer things.

    “But behind this political unwillingness to countenance general taxation as the key student funding route”

    The reason not to countenance this, surely, is that if you do GENERAL taxation (ie. tax those who went to uni and those who did not) instead of this system (tax, in a way, those who went to uni) is that the former method actually taxes people who did not go to uni as if they have benefited from the education AS MUCH as those who actually went.

    The externallity exists – though for some courses (humanities)- I do wonder. But it is not THAT big. THe externality is a catch all excuse to tax for everything. There are externalities. But they are not that big.

    “Being part of a student body SHOULD be about scaring the fuck out of the system with challenging thoughts and actions; it should be about experimentation, whether in philosophy or engineering or even social entrepreneurship. ”

    Back in 1968, what was participation rates? 5%? So you had 95% working for the other 5% to sit around and think scary thoughts – no doubt, piously asserting that their thoughts were really very very good for the 95% working. I am not surprised that workers held students in contempt, if such was the attitude.

    Today’s system is much much fairer. Many thnks for the referrals, have a nice evening

  2. January 28, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    I think I’m in agreement with Paul. Given the current tax settlement, I would much rather the limited resources the state has goes towards mandatory schooling and early intervention. But I’d rather have education was free & paid for by a fairer tax system.

    I also agree about the affects fees & loans have had on the student mindset. Of course we don’t want a small elite of people thinking for themselves and being the ideas people for the rest of us. A radical student body should not be a substitute for a radical and organised working class; it should be a complement to it. Everyone should be encouraged to think for themselves – that includes but is not limited to students.

    I do wonder though if higher education could be used as a tool of democratic planning by, say, making engineering courses and medicine courses free, but charging for management courses?

  3. January 28, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    You don’t think the socialist economies of the future will need people versed in efficient management? It’s no more elitist when a few people are trained to manage than when a few people are trained scholars of history, of medicine, or basically anything not readily available to normal people.

    One of the things I believe Cohn-Bendit was right when he said that we must move out of the universities, to a socialized programme of on-going education run for all levels of society, for free. This sort of programme is definitely something that the Left should be involved with pro bono, until we can force the concession of funds from the state and capital.

    • January 29, 2010 at 5:38 pm

      I’m not sure about your first paragraph there. Surely management is something we need most people to have some training in? Surely we want workers to manage themselves? Having some people trained as specialists in management seems to mitigate against that end.

      But even if you’re right, we can make management courses free again when we become one of the socialist economies of the future, surely?

      • January 29, 2010 at 10:07 pm

        Or we can move them out of the universities, towards the type of on-the-job model which is very prevalent in the City of London when it comes to MPhils and PhDs in economics and related disciplines. And open it to all workers, as you suggest, demanding that employers pay for it.

        My basic point is that I don’t think it is sensible to begin targeting individual jobs in order to recoup money. It sends entirely the wrong message.

  4. January 28, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    Hang on.

    1. The idea that students are being brain-washed by the fact of fees because they’ll have to “conform” to pay back the money is somewhat undermined by the fact no fees are due until somebody is earning £15K+ per year. Therefore, if you want to go to University and then be a revolutionary earning no money, then you won’t have to pay the taxpayer back for the money they loaned you. If, however, you opt to put your degree to use and earn more than £15K per year (which your degree will help you do), then society expects you to pay back – at a rate of inflation tagged to interest – the money that gave you a leg-up in the first place.

    2. Lots of high-falutin’ thoughts about the mental emancipation of students, and speculation about how the Thatcher years turned students into economic consumers instead of thinkers. Not much on why the 50% who don’t go to University – and correspondingly typically earn considerably less than those who do – should stump up the cash.

    It’s not really good enough to claim that this perspective is contaminated by the Thatcher paradigm, because what you end up saying is that poor should subsidise rich because of the quasi-existential benefits of student mentalities freed from economic costs. That’s not very, erm, socialit, i’d say.

    • January 29, 2010 at 12:02 am

      “Not much on why the 50% who don’t go to University – and correspondingly typically earn considerably less than those who do – should stump up the cash.”

      Why should the cleaner pay for the company manager’s heart transplant?

      Why should the dustman pay for the chief executive’s kids to go to school?

      Why should someone who is out of work pay for childcare vouchers for a teacher?


      A person earning the minimum wage will pay, what, something like a fiver per year towards the costs of higher education. The premiership footballer will pay thousands.

      The argument that it is wrong in principle for people on low incomes to pay for anything through their taxes which might end up benefiting middle class people is one which ends up with a residual welfare state providing low cost, low quality services for the poor. There is a debate to be had about which public services are best provided universally, and how they are paid for, but that is not a good starting point.

  5. January 28, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Brilliant post.

    Worth noting the doublethink in this policy area, where the “centrist” political consensus requires people to believe:

    (a) that successful political parties need to appeal to the aspirational middle class
    (b) that tertiary education should be funded by an inefficient and bureaucratic stealth tax on aspiration, which imposes the greatest burden on middle income earners.

    I note that the American system, which we are all meant to admire, is working so well that the President had to set out policies in the State of the Union “to make sure that no one goes broke because they chose to go to college”.

  6. tgmac
    January 29, 2010 at 8:19 am

    This is just my attempt to follow the logic. First level education is deemed so socially necessary that if I don’t send my child to school an official of the state will come knocking at my door, and if I don’t comply with the social contract or prove I’m educating my child (home education allowed in the UK?) I can be prosecuted. Likewise for secondary education. However, at third level education a free market emerges where a divide opens up and the newly created market forces take over. What was socially necessary, education, becomes a commodity dictated by market forces, and also to some extent the level of academic achievement previously attained by a given student. One doesn’t send an academic underachiever to university. (Obviously they do in order to increase income streams and profits when education becomes a commodity. Hence the call for a two tier education system where brainiacs go to tier 1 and the fodder go to tier two to generate profits for private education institutions.)

    In so many ways doesn’t the construction of the current system hark back to its feudal origins. Back then, the financially priviledged bought their education. No money, no schooling, While socialist tendencies in the early 20th century intiated universal education, the notion of buying priviledge, power and future financial reward still remains in our mindsets. Hence the ease with which the loan schemes were introduced. The wheeze to use equality or merit of academic achievement over merely financial priviledge again eases the transition back into market oriented education and its feudal origins of priviledge. “Here’s a loan and with your academic acumen you too can become one of the masters of the universe – leaving behind any grubby working associations and any quaint notions of social responsibility.”

    From first hand experience in the US, I can tell you that financially strapped graduates only have one over riding emotion when leaving university. Fear. They’ll take any job remotely related to their field and often at wages that just don’t add up to the time spent studying. And if the person is only of average ability, they’re often tied to unfulfilling and mindless drudgery for years in order to service the rentier debts. Their much vaunted personal preferences are severly curtailed. (It’s strange how personal preference, one of the major tenets of Capitalism, are “adjusted” for us less gifted citizens in order to satisfy the needs of the more gifted.)

    In summation whereas the priviledges of financial status have been supplanted or mingled with academic achievement, the aim of education reverts back to the sort of feudal notion that priviledge must be conferred upon the most academically gifted people, and that such people will naturally have dominion over society. The commodity market and loan schemes are nothing but smoke screens to extract rents on students and “adjust” their labour expectation whilst generating profit for private education institutions. NYU in NYC is one of the biggest property owners in lower Manhattan, and I never did see a down at the heel trustee. Education certainly has its priviledges.

    [NB the amount of people around Ireland with initials after their names, myself included, in under productive or non productive employment is simply staggering – and don’t mentioned unemployment.]

  7. Barney Stannard
    January 29, 2010 at 8:52 am

    “Here’s a loan and with your academic acumen you too can become one of the masters of the universe – leaving behind any grubby working associations and any quaint notions of social responsibility.”

    Yeah you are right. Clever people don’t care about anyone else.

    “It’s strange how personal preference, one of the major tenets of Capitalism, are “adjusted” for us less gifted citizens in order to satisfy the needs of the more gifted.”

    The solution being? Do we create multiple redundant opportunities to allow less gifted people to have the job of their dreams? Or do we make access to jobs less dependant on ability? Neither seems particularly conducive to the growth of society’s productive potential.

    p.s. I am actually for free (or almost free, if 100% free isn’t practicable) education. But there is a problem: the US system does chew up students and send many out with ridiculous debt, but they do get the best profs because they pay so much. How we get the latter without the former is problematic.

    • tgmac
      January 29, 2010 at 5:23 pm

      Hiya Barney. Yeah, the 1st quote’s a bit OTT but I’ll stand by it to a degree. The Reagan-Thatcher era changed the emphasis if the not the priority of education substantially imo. One only has to read the too numberous articles in the MSM and better US financial websites to see how many people lament the fact that top rated engineers, mathematicians, chemistry and physics grads are sucked into the non-productive envirnonment of the Wall Street Complex – not too mention 1000’s more inside the halls of academia trying to construct the next Black-Scholes alchemical formula. They are attracted by the money and a society that revolves around money. We’ve seen the results of the efforts over the last couple of years.

      On a more amusing note, there was a minor uproar in the 1980’s, I think, when Chinese students who had graduated with top grads and levels of academic reward decided to return to China – shunning the money and other perks. Whatever the motivation of each student’s decision, many US Media pundits could only surmise that they had been brain-washed from childhood! Motives other than money couldn’t penetrate their weltanschuung.

      Second point. It’s where I choose to emphasise what I see as a problem. As I’m not overly enamoured with the feudal hierarchical strucutures of the military/industrial complex, especially as its evolves out of the neo-liberal design, my starting point is ordinary/avergage/whatever people and how they can both be better satisified and contribute productively to society. In a market place far too many degrees are as much status symbols as they are defined programs of achievement. The price of the status symbol element is often over valued and misleading; leading to a misallocation of human resources and efforts. Why send a student to a high priced Uni when they don’t need the degree for the available job skills required. Maybe I’m being a bit too utilitarian here.

      As pointed out in the main post, a less hierarchical system that emphasises life time education with recognition of skill achievement through experience, open exam systems and other avenues can be explored. Maybe we need a concept like educational vouchers or something. Denmark has a fairly good retraining program, but it only kicks in when someone becomes unemployed. And their taxes are high.

      As for cost of the education with relation to academics, that’s a bit of a stickler alright. If the US is anything to go by, a top academic doesn’t equate to a top instructor. The US is buying reseach ability more than anything else, but the EU and China are definitely denting the US clout in this regard. Being a bit cynical here, but if we can find means to reduce the pay of every other layer of labour input in society we can surely find the means to limit academic wages.


  8. January 29, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Giles @1: Not interested in what you’ve got to say. Where’s that Julian Astle?

    Nah, only kidding. Thanks for taking the time to reply and sorry for slowish response caused by having to read even duller stuff than you have to read (housing susbisdy determination papers and changes to Housing Revenue Account system, so there!).

    I’m suprised you think Richard Branson only gets 40k value out of 40k input and that he skims no external value from employing someone the state paid to go to university. I thought he was supposed to be a good businessman.

    Yes, I understand what you (and Paul S)are saying about it being fairer only to charge those who get the direct benefit. I’m not that thick. But I’ve also pointed out that in general, a progressive general taxation system will do this for you anyway, because we know there’s a causal link between a good education and higher earnings. So while high earners won’t pay for their own education, they’ll pay more than low earners (ie. those statisitically less likely to have gone to university) for people younger than them to go. That’s fair. It’s also uncomplicated.

    For the rest, you haven’t really bothered to engage with my distinction between going to uinivesity and being at it. Indeed your flippant comment about the worthlessness of huminaities degrees does suggest you really feel you don’t need to, because you see university attendance simply asa summation of the courses taken and information imbibed. I was trying to offer a wider conception – perhaps idealistic – of what studentship might be about, and how making it free on entry/generally taxed is important as part of that.

    Specifically on the shift from 5% to 50% participation, I agree that the 1968 Left in France may imply have taken DB-C and his mates for upperclass tossers messing about with revoluation because they were uperclass tossers messing about with revolution (thouugh I don’t think that’s the whole reason the CPF failed to engage), but this was at a time before the post war settlement on university participation for a wider section of the population had really been implemented (for obvious reasons, it took a generation). Now, with higher rates of participation from the working class, there might well be a different engagement.

    • freethinkingeconomist
      January 29, 2010 at 3:17 pm

      Fair point on Branson. But still, chasing the money go round, I would be amazed if the extra value of the lawyer’s education landed in large part on society. Put it this way; if you were happy with that, then is there anything wrong with current tax levels? Your next para seems to say that with a progressive tax system (which we crudely have: the lawyer will pay £millions in income tax over his life time, compared to nothing for some others), the private benefit from such state subsidized activities is well taken care of.

      Honourable people of the left: you normally want the tax system to be more progressive. Well, a student loan system with payments linked to income is a way of doing that, except with a couple of extra hypothecations and limits.

      I did a humanities degree, btw.

      I think we have fundamentally different conceptions of human nature – I am clearly more individualist, and find collective interpretations of what is happening when a student goes off and studies mildly tyrannical. We live in a wonderful, free world for the highly educated. They have opportunities all over the world to make use of the education. I see the HE system as a way of getting those wonderful opportunities at a very reasonable price. When I was at the LSE I was consistently astounded by the sight of thousands of such privileged people whinging vociferously about the cost of this fantastic opportunity. It was always for rather individualistic reasons . ..

  9. January 29, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Paul S @4: I’m not denying that there is this 15k and above safety net. But just because it kind of works, and I have conceded happily that the evidence seems to show tuition fees have not put poorer kids off, doesn’t mean it’s the best option available. Rather, I suggest it’s the best option acceptable to current mainstream thought. I, and others on this thread, contend that a much simpler, equally fair (though slightly ‘blunter’) option is through proper progressive general taxation, bringing with it the the aspects that you and Giles prefer not to address – presumably because you see them as irrelevant – a new conception both of educational entitlement and freedom in study/studentship, of the type which both Don P@6 and Tgmac @8 provide different pieces of anecdotal evidence (from the US) as NOT being present.

    Put simply, I want to see students unencumbered by any worries of their ‘debt to society’, because I’d rather see them busy changing that society.

  10. JonnyRed
    January 29, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Speaking as a current student, and also in the light of Dave’s recent articles which touch on articles such as ‘student identity’ (whether any collective student identity exists any more is a very good question, in fact). Cohn-Bendit was quoted, speaking of “student insecurity and disgust with life in an alienated world where human relationships are so much merchandise to be used, bought and sold in the marketplace” in the 1960s.

    That state of affairs has become the accepted norm, and most students I study with see their lives in just this context. They are at university in order to earn more when they leave, plain and simple. One of the few exceptions to this are the ones who are in university because their parents have told them to go, in almost all cases footing the bill too. I’ve had the joy of spending time with dozens of dentists, doctors and lawyers who are doing a course because that’s what their parents wanted them to do.

    In such an environment, the scope for mass student action is reduced significantly. In the former case, the focus of their three (or more) years in higher education is a job, and free time is often spent on unpaid work experience or simply writing applications to prospective employers for training contracts, graduate schemes and the like. Even if they had the time to spend on political protest or (god forbid!) revolutionary activity, it’s highly unlikely that they would risk grubbying their squeaky-clean applications with such affairs. In the latter case, independent action, and even to some extent independent thought that diverges from their parents’ expectations is discouraged since they are living courtesy of ‘the bank of mum and dad’. Now, I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t support students (and I get support from mine), but when they are the kind of parents who pay for everything, and have in many cases pushed their kids into the degree choice, the environment isn’t conducive to the kind of student activism proposed here.

    Personally, I feel that certainly among large swathes of the student population, the concept of a revolutionary student identity has been lost completely. As long as they are given a few cheap nights out a week and have the promise of a decent job at the end of it, many students are perfectly content to ignore politics entirely, or at least to remain firmly within the mainstream Capitalist doctrine. The overwhelming consensus seems to be either that politics doesn’t matter, or that politicians are all as bad as each other. This kind of cynicism and defeatism at what is supposed to be an optimistic, idealistic age speaks for itself, and is a damning inditement of how depoliticised we have become as a society.

    The plan for most students as they see it is:

    1. Get degree
    2. Get well-paid job
    3. Happiness will inevitably follow

    Not a bad pipe-dream, I suppose.

  11. Barney Stannard
    February 1, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Tgmac – I’m in full agreement with you about the status symbol degree thing. On the relation between the academic quality of academics and their quality as instructors, I would agree with you up to a point. Certainly at undergraduate there is little correlation. However, when it comes to postgraduate there is a real difference. I think at that level quality of communication becomes less important and academic quality far more so.

  12. July 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Awesome article. And you are one of the few people who are talking about this from a wider perspective.

    As I wrote on my own blog today, Education is the Silver Bullet.

    Whatever the problem – be it technical or social – education is the way to lift your society’s problem solving capital. There was a time when primary education lifted that capital enough to make a difference. Then secondary was sufficient. I believe that massive access to tertiary education is the requirement to move our society forward and solve the challenges of energy generation, resource scarcity, social cohesion, personal health …

    This tertiary education should be collectively funded and free at the point of use.

    The confluence of education with other opportunities, and choices, may sometimes result in a financial advantage to the individual. At this point we already have a well established protocol for asking the individual to contribute according to their ability (or to leave our society – always an option). This is called income tax and capital gains tax.

    Before there is any discussion of whether graduate tax or fees are the right method for obtaining payment from an individual for the ‘priviledge’ of university education, we should first have a wider conversation about whether we, as a society, can realistically move forward without lifting the problem solving capital of our society through tertiary education.

    We do not know what unknown unknowns we face over the coming decades, but we do know that education (and research – undertaken by people emerging from tertiary education) are the tools that we have used to move society forward in the past. To suddenly reverse the trend that (ever higher levels of) education should be free, and ideally mandatory, is an enormous backward step.

    The lack of engagement by the Labour prospective leaders with the wider question is what scares me. I won’t vote for anyone who backs the graduate tax.

  13. July 15, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Stray @17: Ta. Where’s your blog?

  1. November 3, 2010 at 2:01 pm
  2. January 4, 2011 at 11:27 pm

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