Further and Higher Education

Right, let's keep this short.

  1. The government says "More people should get post-18 education"; excellent idea! Knowledge is power!
  2. The government says "More people should go to university"; wrong! Universities teach academic knowledge; 'academic' is a synonym for 'pointless'!
  3. In fact, as it is, far too many people to go to university; these are the people who come up, spend three or four years studying some complicated academic subject, and then bugger off to become accountants/merchant bankers/management consultants and the like. This is wholly pointless! People should only go to university to study academic subjects if they're seriously planning a career which entails academic knowledge; things like medicine (although the current professional and educational structure of medicine is entirely wrong - but that's another opinion), law, engineering, architecture, science, etc. Thus, the number of university students should be radically but back; we can probably get away with ~10 real universities in the UK.
  4. So, decimate the universities, and give everyone else an education that will actually help them. What i'm talking about is vocational education. The problem with this is that 'vocational' is a bit of a dirty word - it suggests plumbing and suchlike. 'Professional' education sounds better, but is a bit nonsensical of we consider law and medicine, the archetypal 'professions', to be academic rather than professional. 'Applied' sounds good to me, especially as it emphasises that the alternative (academic learning) is pointless; maybe not everyone will like the term, though.
  5. Applied education, then, should be delivered, as it is now, through further education colleges. To keep things simple, i am going to ban the term 'sixth-form college', 'college' unambiguously means a university-level centre for applied learning (except at Oxford or one of its imitators, of course).
  6. Colleges have a bad reputation. This needs to be sorted out. Not sure how. An influx of bright middle-class people and attendant funding should help, though.
  7. For some reason, i envisage less student mobility in the college sector; i imagine people going to their local college, rather than moving halfway across the country. That's probably not realistic; there will be the same competition for places and bright students as with universities.
  8. So what's the point of separating universities and colleges? Basically, because colleges don't need to support research activity, and so can be run much, much more efficiently (ie cheaply). Also, it will help counteract the drift towards academicising everything, which leads to mickey-mouse degrees like media studies; if someone wants to learn how to be a journalist, let them bloody study journalism - more typesetting, less postmodernism, please!
  9. We also need to recognise that universities and colleges can only impart book-learning, which is fundamentally useless anyway. Book-learning should be seen purely as a preparation for real education, which can only be obtained by actually practicing the desired skill, under the supervision of an experienced and expert mentor. This would be a revolution in education, but it would really be a rediscovery of the ancient form of apprenticeship. Apprenticeship used to be required for all skilled jobs; somehow, we've got to a position where we think people can just work out what they're doing. Madness! Note that apprenticeship is already in place in pure academia in the form of the doctorate - you spend three years playing at being a real academic, whilst a supervisor mentors you (well, in theory), then you write a thesis and are examined face-to-face, and are certified. So, lots more apprenticeships; every job should have a well-defined apprenticeship phase, with a curriculum and a method for judging completion. This should probably be administered by a professional organisation (certainly not the government). Possibly, there should be a standard nomenclature for the qualification obtained through an apprenticeship; in science, it's a doctorate; i think the medieval guilds referred to people who had passed an apprenticeship as a 'master'; the term 'chartered X' is popular now, but possible denotes a more senior level. I like the idea of having master journalists and master accountants about the place, myself; it has a good, solid feel to it.
  10. Now, funding. This is very simple. We will consider the areas of fees (ie money paid to the educating institution) and living expenses separately.
  11. Fees cannot be paid up-front or during the course; young people don't have the money to pay it, and asking parents to pay is a gross violation of the autonomy of the young adults concerned. The solution is simply to impose a graduate tax; part of the deal of being educated somewhere would be the obligation to pay some modest tax to that institution in perpetuity. Note that gradual repayment of a loan, as is currently being suggested, is the wrong thing to do: it means people who earn less, and so pay it off more slowly, will end up paying more, which is entirely the wrong way round. Rather, it should be a genuine tax; it could be a flat rate on earnings above some threshold, or something more complicated; the best option might be to tie it to income tax (eg the education tax bill would be 5 or 10% of your income tax bill). The rate might be fixed across all institutions, or institutions might be able to set their own rates (making the choice between them even more complicated - Oxford at 5%, or Bristol at 2%?). The rate would probably have to be fixed at matriculation, though, to stop insititutions screwing up and then fucking over their alumni.
  12. Living expenses are wholly the responsibility of the student. However, the gobernment should make loans available. The current interest-at-RPI loans are unsustainable, and their expense to the government limits their size, so they are no good. Rather, the government should make very large loans available at the government borrowing rate (the rate at which the government borrows money itself); this would have zero effective cost to the government, and would be much cheaper than commercial credit for the students. Note that the lending is perfectly secure, as the government can still recover the debt through tax, as is done now. Yes, this is unfair to people who earn less, as i noted above, but there is no way round this without giving up the principle of personal debt in this area; this principle is important, as students have a good deal of choice in how much money they spend and thus borrow, so they must bear the corresponding responsibility for paying it back. Now, a simple loan system would be grossly unfair to poorer students; richer students will probably get money from parents (unless we ban this, which is difficult, but see below). Consequently, the government must provide scholarships/bursaries/grants whatever to poorer students, to encourage them to study. Since these would be focused at the very poorest, they could be quite generous.
  13. Now, if we do want to allow some form of parental contributions, what we might do is ban direct support to students, but allow and encourage support to the whole student body of an institution (or some large fraction of it, such as a particular college, hall of residence, etc). Parents could donate money in a tax-efficient way which could then be used by the students collectively, through a union or some such, to provide communal resources (bar, food, TV room, etc) or to give cash support to individuals. The presence of this intermediate layer smooths out the inequality between parents, so poorer students receive as much of the benefit as better-off students, whilst still letting parents feel like they're helping their child. Of course, this plan only works if the majority of parents do give support, as otherwise parents will resent giving money when nobody else is. The only way to ensure this would be to establish a tradition of such giving, and establishing traditions is a rather tricky business.
  14. If my plan were implemented, we would have a cheaper education system which delivered better results, people would be happier, and the nation would be more productive. Also, pigs would fly.

It has come to my attention that some humans have read this document. They made a number of remarks, some of which i will reproduce and respond to here (names have been omitted to protect the guilty).

It was also suggested that i get a blog. This is idiocy of such high order that i will draw a veil over it.