Grayling Hall & other private Education Establishments

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.


5 comments on “Grayling Hall & other private Education Establishments

  1. Sean Tyrer says:

    A very well-written and informative piece. It seems indisputable that there is going to have to be further moves towards privatisation of higher education in the UK if the desired figure of 50% of secondary school leavers going on to university remains a goal. The sloganised ‘Education is a right not a privilege’ seems to be of an entirely different era now, though I recall it being shouted in the streets a relatively short 20 odd years ago, and some are even still declaiming it in all weathers out on protest today.

    What took rather a lot of us by surprise in the Grayling case, though, was not that this privatisation was a bomb-shell – it’s been going on for donkeys’ – but that such a man, and one I’ve come to respect immensely, on record at different times decrying the privileging of wealth in acquiring a decent university education, should now seem to be relinquishing those principles, making a volte-face towards the US system and then trying to cash-in on his and his celebrity mates’ reputations. I can’t help but see an inconsistency there. Perhaps you don’t, and if so I’d really like to know why. The manner of this New College’s launch also seems tinged with the hyperbole of the true entrepreneur (nothing wrong with that, per se, but from Grayling?!) – it is no more a University than is any other expensive tutorial crammer designed to fill coffers by way of desperate and rich parent’s ambitions to see their nice but rather dim offspring get a leg up in life other and cleverer sons and daughters will never be able to afford.

    • Veronique says:

      Well, yes Sean. I think that HE is going to cost the student from now on. Mind you, the other occupant of my bed rightly points out that should Trident and silly defence systems not be upgraded at a cost of somewhere between £78 and £130 million (I read those figures somewhere in the past week), then funding could be found for education and health. And who on earth is likely to attack the UK?? He certainly has a valid point.

      As to why it was Grayling? Who knows! I have to agree that Grayling is on the top of my list as well, though I don’t seem to have the same problem as others about this move of his.

      Yes, I think he is an academic with a ham fisted way of dealing with what he misread as public acceptance or no. I suspect Grayling is not quite as worldly as I thought (or he himself). I do not think that any investor into this College will be able to expect a return on investment for a long time, if ever. I think it probably more sensible to see the investment as a bequest.

      Be that as it may, the fact that Grayling could ‘persuade’ or otherwise convince 14 academics of some note to agree with his proposal and find the investment needed to venture forth tends to make me think that he most certainly is not the only one to have contemplated this.

      As I have said, I grew up with free HE and I am most grateful for that. I would, in a different world, want everyone to have accessibility to free education from primary school upward. Those times are gone and I have done an about face on HE in the past decade or so. I guess Grayling et al have as well and have the clout to do something about it. My only reservation is that they may well be playing into the Tories’ hands as they (the Tories) try to dismantle public education and develop faith/independent (read no standard criteria) schools unaccountable to any national examination criteria.

      I recall when lecturers stayed put at their places of employment (in the 1970s) because of financial constraints and lack of available tenures. It is very sad and counterproductive when academics and researchers can’t move onto other establishments and develop their skills and open up horizons because of governmental financial woes. Maybe the 70s was a foretaste of what is happening now.

      I do see the Tories as making HE difficult as they hurry, with coattails flapping, to stem the National Debt in order to convince voters to hand them a second term (woe betide us if the voters do) but the way and speed with which institutions are being disrupted and dismembered (education and health) will scar this society for a long time.

      NCH is about to offer something that is not offered anywhere and while it doesn’t really tout itself as a University (the media played that fiddle), it could very well achieve that status in the coming years should it survive its stormy inauguration.

      If NCH’s Humanities’ graduates have to pass core units in science literacy, logic and critical thinking and business practice and ethics in order to earn a Diploma, then it is doing a whole lot better than any counterpart.

      I hope that you (and others) are wrong in your charge that the nice but dim offspring will be catered for in NCH. I hope that intellectual excellence will be the criterion and the necessary fee structure caters for those of lesser financial worth.

  2. Sean Tyrer says:

    You say that the 14 other academics, passed off on the NCH website originally as being founders alongside Grayling, saw the merit in what he was doing, but in fact the (arguably) most famous of them all was extremely quick to assert in the face of public opprobrium that ‘ This is the brainchild of A C Grayling, NOT me.’ This would appear to attenuate your assertion that they – at least Dawkins – was entirely at one with Grayling on his enterprise.

    No problem of course with academics branching out into private practice and making a bundle for themselves. But for Grayling to do this after having been in his capacity of Professor of Philosoply at one of the more prestigious colleges of the University of London one of the strongest critics of the Tory obsession with wealth as a means of achieving the best education seems a touch crass. I would prefer that he had stayed within the university sector so much under attack and had continued to lobby Government hard with his influencial voice to his seeming surrender to the Tory ideal and to the US model by making a sharp exit into the privatised world of tutorial crammers (as I see the NCH) or indeed of future private universities, if NCH ever becomes one. They have a rather forlorn reputation in the UK, despite years of trying to change their image.

    • Veronique says:

      There is no way I could possibly know how many, if any, of the other 13 academics could be classed as founders alongside Grayling. I just don’t know. I think I read that the £10 million funding came from private investors but I have not checked this out. But I would think that RD is quite right in saying that it was not his brainchild but that he had no problem with the thrust of the academic curriculum. And why would he.

      This, of course, was also part of the argument from other occupant of my bed. That RD was always in it for the money. He sees RD as mainly interested in monetary reward whereas I don’t see that as a major thrust in RD’s public life. He has certainly put in enough effort to reap rewards but my understanding is that he funnels monetary largesse into RD dot net and/or other scientifically/educationally oriented charities.

      If Grayling had stayed within the university sector and played his part, would that have achieved anything of political note, despite his high profile? I suspect not.

      I think it is salutary to remember that both Grayling and Dawkins are actually intimately involved with educative concerns (because they are educators) and have a lot of input into the education debate. Their influence within this sphere is actually quite sound and they do not shrink from expressing their views. I am sure that both are capable of involvement in education committees and curricula development

      I will support them because I think they show a way forward that needs to be highlighted and taken. This society will not be poorer for it.

  3. Sean Tyrer says:

    I will have to go with the other occupant of your bed on this one. In fact I would go a touch further on the Dawkins issue, and state that he has, on the back of a rather soft option platform at Oxford in the not so highly sought-after course of Zoology, his most brilliant and most engaging book The Selfish Gene notwithstanding, simply written every single further book on the back of a more brilliant man than he, whose work he sought to explicate. It is a very tough call for me to term Dawkins a scientist in the same descriptive manner as I would term Pinker a scientist in his field.

    Dawkins et al. are of course wonderful teachers, but be aware: they will be in short attendance at the NCH, with the bulk of teaching undertaken not by them but by very decent post-grads in the fields. In circumstances where Grayling has repeatedly mentioned an overriding benefit of his college as being the ability for its student body to mix with ‘very distinguished academics’, I think this is rather over-egging the mix, if not in fact promising more than can possibly be delivered. Dawkins is on record as saying he agreed to support this initiative by way of a few lectures a year. No seminars, no tutorials and no remedial assistance mentioned whatsoever.

    No matter how much the ‘distinguished professorati’ are in favour of education, as you mention, they are doing, and Grayling principal among them, an enormous disservice to the notion of higher education being accessible to all with this venture. This is neither Grayling’s nor his celebrity mates’ finest hour.

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