Monday 10th July
I was destined to go to University. I was in the top stream in Grammar School. I had passed the eleven plus. I can remember being told we were the ‘crème de la crème’; we would be the administrators, the doctors, the lawyers, the law-makers even. Well, it didn’t turn out that way. I didn’t go to University. I left home and school, ran away actually in 1968 – and had to work for a living ever since. Mind you if I had gone, it would have been free – and a grant too.
Now, you may say that I have a chip on my shoulder – but all things considered I do not regret not going to University. At that point in my life I would have probably succumbed to drink and drugs, whereas I soon became a parent (no regrets there either) and was working too hard to indulge in either. But there is definitely a snobbish element in going to University, with many of those who went automatically assuming that they are both more intelligent and somehow more complete humans than those who didn’t. On several occasions I have encountered this, they look down their book-worn noses at us plebs….well, all I can say is that I am more than a match for any of them. And I have no idea of the difference between an MA, a BA, or any of that crap. It doesn’t mean a thing, except that you learnt how to play the system and gave the examiners what they wanted.
But the idea that the brightest and cleverest should have an extra level of learning is a good one. In my day it was free, but restricted to the very best students. In the Nineties there was a huge increase in university places, far more kids went to Uni than before. The net result is that in general University degrees have become less valued; many graduates not being able to achieve their aspirations, or even utilizing their skills – many ending up in mundane jobs for which a University education was never a requirement.
Add to this the fiasco of the Student Loans system where many now leave with debts of £50,000 and we have somehow managed to create a crazy mess. Universities are now largely money-making machines. Many students opt for University rather than face the reality of work, another three years of relative leisure and freedom before the inevitability of becoming an adult hits them. Many students will never earn enough to pay off their ‘debt’, which incidentally has an interest rate of around 6%, far higher than the 0.25% Bank of England rate. The whole Student Loan nonsense is just another Accounting Swindle designed to disguise Government Spending and must cost a fortune to administer.
So, what are Universities actually for these days? Some are excellent centres of research. Some are attracting record numbers of Overseas Students (hardly helping the UK economy). And some are simply there to perpetuate their existence.
But there has never been any sort of economic planning; where there are Labour shortages, where Doctors are needed for example – there seems no attempt to persuade kids to study Medicine. And of course, after University – there is no requirement to stay in the NHS, or even in this country. And now even some Tories, partial architects of the current mess, are calling for a ‘National Discussion’ about Universities, mainly because of Jeremy Corbyn’s hugely popular idea of free University Education – which was exactly where we started just a few years ago. Except that now many more ‘qualify’, as of course, the ‘raison d’etre’ of Universities is no longer as place of knowledge, but as yet one more way of making money.