50% at University

I\’ll admit that I rather struggle to understand this.

Labour will keep its target of sending half of all school-leavers to university despite figures showing that participation in higher education is falling, ministers have insisted.

No, not the failure to hit the target, but the target itself. Other than having been plucked from the air, what is so magical about 50% of the age group going to university?

All I can see that has happened is a degrading of the graduate premium (arts majors fo men now seem to have a negative return for example) and an expansion of Mickey Mouse degree courses. Plus, of course, a vast expansion of credentialism. Does a nurse, for example, really need a university degree? Do, as argued only last week, nursery staff need one? Do teachers need a post-graduate one?

I can see huge value in people doing degrees: either as a rite of passage or for the sheer joy of learning, but outside a rather small section of jobs (I\’m thinking about certain sciences and engineering disciplines) the economic value of a degree (which is what I think the justification used for that target is) seems to me to be very weak.

So where did that target come from and what is used to justify it?

"The Knowledge Economy" doesn\’t cut it I\’m afraid. That requires that all doing such degrees are in fact aquiting knowledge of economic value, which I don\’t see as being true.

16 thoughts on “50% at University”

  1. It is just misguided. Labour see graduates being successful and think “aha! more graduates = more success!” and push for that.

    The government is just run by cretins, that’s all there is to it.

  2. There was something in one of the weekend’s papers saying that the number of graduates out of work had increased (unsurprisingly, as they’re all holding out for a dream job) and that they are even more depressed that yer run-of-the-mill NEET (student debts and all that).

  3. Actually, this adds to that sum total of unhappiness you were dicussing in the post above. So-called graduates come out with bits of paper that are meaningless and get them no jobs they couldn’t have had with GCEs, lots of debts, no knowledge and the consciousness of having literally pissed away several years of their lives. Then they turn round and see many the good jobs going to immigrants, whether temporary or permanent, with proper qualifications and knowledge and ability to work. So they become thoroughly miserable. Some of them even realize that they have been conned.

  4. Or, alternatively: many people go to college if they can’t find a job. Several years of low unemployment have meant that people don’t need to go to college to find a job. Therefore fewer people go to college. If we have a recession, college applications will go up again.

    This doesn’t fit the “doom! doom! doom! everything’s buggered!” scenario loved by the mongers, but it does fit the data…

  5. As Socialists, they despise the working class (otherwise why would they wish to control their lives?).

    So they believe that anyone who doesn’t go to University cannot have a job with any satisfaction.

    Either that or they want graduates that can only be employeed in the state sector doing non jobs.

  6. “So where did that target come from and what is used to justify it?”

    The same place as the advice about how much we should drink – the figures were plucked out of some socialists arse.

  7. Presumably more education leading to higher productivity is the reasoning. I’m more of a fan of signalling explanations for returns to education myself.

  8. Incidentally I’m sure this contributes to the whole ‘british people not prepared to do these jobs’ problem – I mean you’re hardly going to be prepared to take a job cleaning shit out of toilets if you have a ‘degree’ are you, even if it is in the arts.

    This together with the govts answer to unemployment among the young (enforced school till 18) will produce a vicious circle and worsen the problem.

    The only way this will be sorted out is when our economy is slightly more fucked than it is now and all the Poles and Lithuanians decide it was better at home and bugger off.

    This will leave a lot of jobs not being done, but then employers will have to offer more money for those shitty jobs and then some British people might be prepared to do them.

    You can’t really blame Brits for not wanting to do a shitty job for such a shitty wage that they will have to sleep 16 to a house.

  9. Does a nurse, for example, really need a university degree?

    they need about 3 years’ professional training, and need to pass an assessment at the end of it. it hardly does anyone any harm to call it ‘a university degree’, particularly if the institution that’s providing the training and assessment also operates as a university.

  10. The point that john b is missing is that a degree used to be an academic qualification, not just an indicator of training.

    I remember when I was at school doing an additional ‘O’ level in the sixth form in Human Biology (I did this because I had to give up biology in the 5th form in order to fit in all my other subjects). I did it in two terms and it was pretty easy. Almost everybody else that did it went on to become a nurse (which is probably why they were doing it). They struggled to pass.
    Nowadays, they’d probably go on to do a nursing ‘degree’, despite clearly struggling academically.

    I’m not knocking less academic people and it is important that they are trained better than they ever used to be. However, it stands to reason that the academic level of most ‘degrees’ is much lower than it was, now that 40%+ of young people are taking them as opposed to 10% in those days.

  11. I am part of the Boomerang Generation. This is probably a new term for most and is likely a US-centric one as well. However, I think a simple description of my generation (or generational subset) says a lot about higher education worldwide.

    The Boomerang Generation is defined as those born at the end of Generation X or the beginning of Generation Y. Wikipedia (consider the source) nails this down to those born between 1977 and 1986. They, of course, lack a source. These “kidults” (or “Twixters”) reportedly returned home in large numbers after attending college. That fact has been disputed (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-03-13-analysis-boomerang_N.htm), but there is much more to this sub-generation than where they do or do not live.

    On average, Boomerangs entered the job market right around the Dot Com Bubble and 9/11. Some bypassed higher education to enter the technology field when money was flowing freely. Those in the later half of the generation stayed in school and often went on to earn advanced degrees. If news reports on this generation are to be accetped at face value, both groups contribute to the “degrading of the graduate premium.” I would not think this is only seen in the US.

    Those most likely to attend college are also those most likely to have parents that could afford to support them (in some manner) through their 20’s and early 30’s. Does this safety net create an environment where students select a degree without considering its economic value? Would one be more apt to enroll in a “Mickey Mouse degree course” if being self-sufficient after graduation was not an absolute?

    Older generations (now retiring managers and C-level executives) were probably taken aback by early Boomerangs that excelled without a formal education. We’re now seeing an increasingly educated, protected class of kidults coming from that same generation.

    Please allow me to paint with a broad brush for a few more moments.

    Those in their late 20’s and early 30’s are more self-sufficient, have 5-10 years in the workforce, and less formal education. The other half of the Boomerangs have more formal education, but little work experience. Would older generations then be more apt to engage in “credentialism” and select educated kidults to assume their leadership roles? What impact would this have on the global economy?

    Would this also encourage the under-educated to pursue nontraditional degrees? While there is some value in on-line and other nontraditional degree programs, does this not further fuel credentialism (diploma mills and weakened degree requirements come to mind)? While it requires one to accept some very broad generalizations of an entire generation, could the Boomerangs be creating a world where education is a “membership card” and degrees are selected with little regard to their economic value?

    Further reading:

  12. Little Black Sambo

    Aiming at a 50% “graduate” population to improve society is like turning cows round to change the weather.

  13. BlacquesJacquesShellacques

    Aiming at a 50% “graduate” population to improve society is like … having a 5 year plan and quota for the production of shoes.

    It will lead only to the production of 2 shoes per year, made out of 50 tons of concrete each.

    Quota met. Bravo. Medals and knighthoods for the factory managers.

    50% of school leavers, each with the requisite quota of cement in their heads. Quota met, etc, etc.

  14. The 50% is a stupid target mainly because it doesn’t mean what it implies – which is that 50% of the population are clever enough to have a degree.
    All it really means is that degrees are now easy enough that 50% of the population can do them.

    All the process has done is to devalue the degree to that of an A level – yet the youth still think they deserve the social credit given out to degree holders in the 1950’s.

    If you want someone who is actually educated, you need to find an MBA, a PHD or an industry qualification.

  15. When I went to university I think the total attending was less than 10% of youngsters in the normal age bracket for attending. And I required three grade As at A level or damn close to get into med school.

    A 50% target suggests that some ‘universities’ are awarding degrees that do not have serious academic rigour. This will mean that unless you have a degree in a ‘serious’ subject from a Russel Group university you will have incurred great expenditure for nothing as such a qualification will be derided.

    Another government screw up in the name of social engineering and ‘equality’………..don’t the cretins realise the whole point of university education is elitist. there is nothing actually wrong with this. Do they not understand the diversity of individuals? We are not all equal, which is why I have never represented my country at the Olympic games. I’m not good enough to and never have been. But I can diagnose atypical meningitis and save lives. We all have our own talents and skills but this disgrace of a government wants to box us in to achive a stupid target rather than encourage natural abilities.

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