Well, the brouhaha about private colleges either for-profit or not-for-profit seems to have calmed down as the media find new snippets to beef up.
For the week or ten days that the New College of Humanities was on the front pages and in the blogosphere, there seemed to be a totally polarised set of irreconcilable views. I should know; I live in a household that is polarised over this issue.
So let’s look at what the issues are.
Education should be free – at least at the point of use. Well, yes. What a great thing and we all agree. Of course, ‘free’ means the society pays the taxes and capital investment to construct buildings and laboratories, to run, maintain and pay salaries and fund research and development and issue scholarships; monies all coming from the public purse.
There are private bequests and other private funding in that monetary mix. We still have some philanthropists. As we are often told, there is no such thing as a free lunch. And tuition scholarships impose an obligation, often not understood by the public, on the recipient of the scholarship largesse.
I grew up in an era where secondary school and tertiary education was free. There were private faith-run schools/colleges and there were excellent state-funded and state run schools which the majority of students attended and matriculated from. At that time there was only one university in my state. Good university, good reputation; free tuition.
My father was one of the first science graduates from that university in the 1920s and neither he nor his family could have afforded fees. He was a scholarship boy from the Goldfields who was very bright. However, he fulfilled the promise and did end up as Dean of Science before he retired and he was part of the Medical School that inaugurated in 1958 at his home university. Quite a roll call I thought (and still think so).
I am not sure what proportion of secondary school students made it through entrance screening criteria in the mid 1920s. I have found that less than 2% of 18 years olds attended university prior to the Second World War
By the time I went to University, the figure had risen (so had the global population) to about or less than 10%.
Currently the figure is in the region of 38% to 43% (and global population has leapt forward exponentially) and I believe that this is, in part, due to that sleaze Tony Blair postulating that at least 50% of school leavers should undertake Higher Education.
In order to make all this sound mighty fine, entrance criteria and examination standards had no choice but to change and it was a downwards slippery slope. Tertiary institutions were encouraged to upgrade themselves and wear the mantle of ‘university’ to bring them into line with the society’s desire to become ‘educated’ at proper institutions.
The then current idea was that globalisation was a good idea; that globalisation would lift the poorer countries up the income and GDP ladder and that the high end of rich countries needed to educate their youth to take advantage of higher technology and education per se, ie to become smarter. So, all would benefit. And there is no doubt that that benefit is demonstrable in improved living standards and GDP growth in poorer countries.
There was and is no problem with what Blair was saying and I remember that the same thing happened in Australia and the pundits who drew up education curricula and syllabi had the weasel words to go with the push to fool students into thinking that there would be enough high paying jobs for University graduates. Well, to be fair, maybe they thought the jobs would be there. And that external fee-paying students would shorten the funding gap by paying hefty fees.
Of course, as technology advances through industry and less human power is needed to produce at least the same as before, the jobs were supposed to come from the upper end of the private and public sectors.
Well, those jobs appear to have not happened in the numbers predicted and most certainly not in the areas that need them most. Teachers are still undersupplied as are nurses, but lawyers and accountants are in oversupply. And immigration has helped to supply employment fodder for the jobs that the wealthy countries’ population no longer feel they should have to undertake. There is a bit of hubris here.
None of this has stemmed the flow of secondary students into tertiary education. So it sits at about 40%. And it is beginning to show the funding disparity and there is now a requirement that students pay at least something towards their education. The Americans have done this for years but, of course, the Americans don’t have the same societal safety nets that other western democratic countries consider part of normal advanced societies.
The difference between the old 10% and the current 40% means that there are less people working and paying the taxes that fund the tertiary institutions in those critical educational years, despite immigration
How does a society pay for about 40% of its youth to stay within educational facilities until the age of 23 or 24? With an ageing population on NHS. And the lowest infant death rate ever. And the best longevity rate ever. With a universal pension scheme. With a universal financial safety net for its citizens.
All these things are the hallmark of a fully functioning society, but it costs money. We do, after all, live in a capitalist society in concert with other capitalist societies. And although I think it will inevitably fall apart, it won’t yet. Not while I am writing and you are reading.
All this blog post was supposed to address was the private and public mix of tertiary education. I hope it has addressed some of the issues. The same is happening within the secondary education system and, of course, the faith schools in the primary education sector have always been apparent.
In all of this upheaval in education and its delivery to the populace, I really want secularity in education. My wish is that religious belief systems stay within their religious houses and stop trying to infiltrate educational establishments and that governments stop allowing themselves to be held to ransom by religion and its perceived influence
It is a delusion after all and the sooner we divest ourselves of our pandering to the religious numbers game, the sooner we will grow up. Then we may develop societies of which we could be justly proud. And we may survive our current misuse of our environment. Ah, well. Maybe, just maybe.