The Longest Con
In the wake of news that David Willetts, Universities Minister, is expected to recommend that graduates pay up to £7,000 a year in tuition fees, I thought it pertinent to write a scathing critique of the government’s attitude towards higher education.
The farce began during the days of New Labour – Smilin’ Tony Blair made bold statements about getting 50% of the populace university educated, whilst simultaneously raising the cost of study with top-up fees. A clearer example of Orwellian Doublethink you could not invent – with one hand, Blair was coaxing people into education, whilst the other reached into their pockets and extracted their wallets.
My own university education thankfully took place just prior to these events, and as such I paid a paltry £1,200 per year for the right to sit in a dilapidated lecture hall, straining to listen to an equally dilapidated lecturer mumble from 30-year old notes on software design, before heading home to complete assignments that would be marked by underpaid and under-attentive postgraduate students.
Whilst paying over £3,500 for three years of this was no small financial commitment, it pales in comparison to the £21,000 repayment that future graduates could be facing in years to come. The question that springs to my mind and bobs around like a plastic bag in an updraft is: Where does all this money go?
For many “academic” courses, such as English, Mathematics, Sociology, etc, all that is required for teaching is a teacher. Even taking into account time taken to mark coursework and exams, use of rooms, student support services and so forth, surely there is not £21,000 of value in this? For subjects with higher technical requirements, such as Sciences and Engineering, there is a much greater need for expenditure on things like computers, lab equipment and machinery, yet I cannot imagine that a three year engineering course of 60 students could eat up over a million pounds in running costs.
This doesn’t even take into account the fact that many universities simply do not offer a high-quality service – my alma mater, The University of Sussex, is a crumbling establishment with buildings and equipment that have seen little updating since the University’s inception in the sixties. Whilst a cash injection of £21,000 per unfortunate student would no doubt alleviate long-term problems, the truth is that the University has to offer value up-front before anyone would even consider discharging that kind of money.
I don’t have space here to discuss the manifold issues with my former university, nor the insane, Porterhouse Blue-esque conservatism of a government that even considers limiting higher education to the rich in this way, so instead will end on a positive note: at least we don’t live in America.