Education for whom?

Our higher education establishment is in a mess.

Not, I should add, for the first time.  Nor, I should imagine, the last. Nor is it all bad: indeed, quite apart from our handful of world-leading establishments, there’s evidence to suggest it’s a big success in some important ways.

Today’s news: university places filling faster than ever.  Apparently it’s not just the usual story of a few illiterate no-hopers missing out, but a surge of demand to get in ahead of the forthcoming new fee structures.  Seems this year’s 18-year-olds are missing out on that gap year, and who can blame them?

This is the inevitable outcome of a historic process of expansion that, under political pressure, went too far and too fast in pushing young people into higher education.  It’s roots can be traced back at least to the 1960s, but it’s gone a long way since then with the 1992 name inflation and the last government’s social engineering agenda.  And now the prohibitive costs likely to exclude all but a privileged[1] minority.

At the same time, there seem to be straws in the wind about the possibility of a backdoor return to something closer to sanity.  Universities are to be incentivised to take students with decent A-level grades (AAB or better), and it is thought likely they’ll compete to attract such students by offering favourable deals.  Sounds to me like an element of de facto selection on merit – something that’s explicitly banned in areas of the education system influenced by the more Maoist elements of political correctness.

Could we be heading for something closer to the Good Old Days, where grants were available to students who met basic academic standards?  If so, that sounds like potentially a rather good outcome.  Now if only they could formalise it in a way that’s clear and transparent to prospective applicants, maybe we could have something fit-for-purpose for our youth!

Now, with the announcement that the Open University is to join the high-fees bandwagon, is there anything out there for those who leave school early but are ready to study later in life?

[1] Including those privileged by social engineering criteria as well as the offspring of the very rich and indulgent.

Posted on August 19, 2011, in education, uk. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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