It is very easy to sniff at the value of certain degree subjects, my generation will often look down their noses at ‘non-degree’ subjects, typically media studies, and very often we will say that we need a return to traditional subjects. But what do we actually mean by this? At the core of the argument, as I understand it, is that there is no business imperative to have studied to degree level one of these subjects in order to become meaningfully productive. This suggests that higher education’s primary purpose is to prepare the students adequately for the workplace. However, the sector has expanded, with full political acquiescence, into something completely different. Higher Education has now become a Ponzi scheme.
Since 1992 there have been 75 new universities established, 38 of which were the old polytechnics and 37 either complete new builds or upgraded art schools etc. This takes the total number of UK universities to over 130. Is it really likely that the real demand for degrees etc. actually doubled in this period? The introduction of student loans in the 1980s, and then fees in the 2000s have, effectively, made all university and higher education private. All the fees and loans are reclaimed by taxation once the graduate is in work. So we can be crystal clear about the function of the university system, it is designed to be as self-funding as possible. It has its own distinct form of opt-in taxation unlike, say health. As the universities and colleges want to expand, make changes or modify and improve the campuses they are required to find the funding, which can only ever come from one source, more student intake. More worryingly, the universities will also have to cover their generous (by private sector standards) salary increases and pensions by, yes you have guessed it, more enrolment. Bernie Madoff would have been impressed.
The effect of our Ponzi scheme has a detrimental social effect. Traditional school leaving jobs such as becoming a travel agent are now more difficult to get without a degree in tourism management; a trainee at the local supermarket will need to have a degree in retail management and so on and so on. The traditional route of post room boy to management will be cut off because of a surfeit of graduates on the market. It will become impossible to get a regular job without having to buy a degree at a cost of £27,000 plus living expenses for three years, and the families that simply cannot withstand the thought of this financial burden will be squeezed out of the jobs market permanently.
The system grows exponentially as the system becomes flooded with graduates, and new barriers to entry into the jobs market are created, barriers that require further study and qualification and, yes you have guessed it, more costs. Soon a Bachelors’ degree will be insufficient to get to rung #1. Students more and more are having to stay on at University and accrue yet more tax obligations for themselves by taking Masters’ degrees and other qualifications. Without an MA or MBA or similar, you will not even get an interview for many jobs in London, and one of those from a good university will set you back another £30,000.
Best you start saving for your kids now.