The universities are full: how wonderful

Research by The Daily Telegraph shows a sharp rise in the number of students aged 17 and 18 directly applying to leading companies after leaving school and college.

Employers such as Network Rail, Marks & Spencer, Laing O’Rourke, the engineering firm, and the accountancy firms PricewaterhouseCoopers and Grant Thornton are reporting huge rises in applications for A-level entry jobs this summer.

The disclosure, which comes days before students throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their A-level results, casts doubt on claims that degrees are a prerequisite for careers at top companies.

I would argue that the huge expansion of university, the one that\’s been going on for decades, was itself a mistake. Yes, quite happy with the argument that we\’re in a \”knowledge economy\”. Entirely happy with the idea that increasing the human capital of the population will increase future economic growth, even with the idea that peeps getting to do interesting jobs will make they themselves happier.

However, this doesn\’t necessarily mean that sending 35%, 50%, of the relevant age group through university is a good idea.

What we had was a failure of compositional logic (if I\’ve managed to use such a posh phrase this early on a Monday morning).

It was true that that 10%, 20% perhaps, of the peeps who were academically inclined went on to do interesting jobs with lots of human capital forced into them by their 3 years in academe. But this does not then mean that the next 20-40% of peeps will similarly benefit from being force fed bad courses at low grade institutions by low grade academics.

But some teenagers are shunning university altogether to focus on apprenticeships and other school entry-level programmes. According to figures from the Association of Graduate Recruiters, more than a quarter of leading businesses employ staff directly from schools and colleges and a fifth of other companies are considering opening up recruitment schemes to this age group.

For the first time, Boots, the chemist, is running an apprenticeship scheme for sixth-formers this year.

PricewaterhouseCoopers has so far received 1,600 applications for just 100 places on its employment scheme for A-level students. Applications for the programme, which leads to a chartered accountant qualification in four years, have doubled in a year and increased almost fourfold since 2008.

Some/many, most, possibly even all of that second group will be better served by training, not academe. The compositional error was therefore to assume that more human capital, more training, that knowledge economy, could only be reached by expanding university rather than expanding training.

It is, as you can see there, entirely possible to enter one of the professions entirely without a degree. One can qualify as a solicitor (just about, it\’s getting more difficult) without one too. And quite why anyone thinks that a degree is a requisite for a career in say, golf course management, is quite beyond me (yes, there is a degree course in this. Why would anyone who wished to do this for a living need to be exposed to fourth rate interpretations of third rate poseurs like Derrida?).

I\’ve a stepdaughter doing a teaching degree as an adult entrant currently, I peer over her shoulder occasionally at the work. I don\’t see anything in there at all which is \”a degree\” but do see an awful lot of being taught how to teach. It\’s simply not an academic subject and therefore almost certainly doesn\’t belong in the academic, rather than the training, environment.

Just to be snide for a moment, does anyone think the newspaper are getting better now that entrants routinely have post-graduate journalism qualifications? Rather than joining up at 15 as a copy boy (as per Les Hinton)?

And to spiral off into paranoia, why has all of this been done, this conflation of university with the only possibly desirable form of training? Perhaps because, by and large, the State controls how uni is done and it doesn\’t control how training by private companies is done. So an unspoken and underlying motivation to push 50% of the population through the unis is to make sure that 50% of the population owe their training to, and have been trained by, said State.

Which is rather likely to increase the future influence of said State, no?

Although I will admit to being interested by historical experience here. Those who come out with £50k of debt, those who should never have gone in the first place and who end up doing the same sort of job they would without the debt, might lose some of their faith in the benevolence and omniscience of that State. As, anecdotally, those who did National Service came out stating that they now knew that anything run by the Government was going to be entirely shite.

And note, it was those who had done post-war National Service who, when adult and in power, ripped down much of that all-encompassing State in the 80s and 90s.

16 thoughts on “The universities are full: how wonderful”

  1. Its not just the state.
    Every-one has been indoctrinated for ten years (absolute minimum) by teachers with degrees into believing that degrees are the path to greatness. Employers have demanded degrees as an entry qualification even when they have no use for the knowledge the particular degree evidences.
    In short education has undergone a massive bubble, dwarfing the housing bubble, and it’s high time we started to unwind.

  2. I agree. There was an odd belief, particularly held by the last government but now part of received wisdom, that more people educated to A and degree level is good in itself. Leaving aside the intangible (but real) extent to which being more educated is preferable to being uneducated in terms of its own intrinsic satisfaction, this was odd because it was backward. The hope, I think was (as with much of New Labour activity) – “if you build it, they will come”, whether that is regeneration by building shiny business parks in godforsaken post-industrial wasteland in Sunderland, revitalising health and education by building hospitals and schools that look like corporate HQs or moving to a knowledge economy by having a lot more people with certificates of knowledge. It didn’t work – no-one wanted a corporate HQ in a business park in Sunderland, nice buildings didn’t transform how doctors, teachers and administrators ran those services, having degree certificates didn’t generate hundreds of thousands of the sorts of jobs that graduates did when the politicians were growing up. A problem in getting past this error is that it will always look “elitist” if a non-Labour government decides that actually we only need 15-20% going to university and that actually, a lot of courses and institutions confer few real benefits on society or their students rather than on the people working in them.

    http://bit.ly/edEC8T

  3. “Every-one has been indoctrinated for ten years (absolute minimum) by teachers with degrees”
    Ten years at least 20+ I would say.
    I was brainwashed into thinking that I had to study chemistry full time at University.
    Whilst I was there I met people living in Canterbury who were working at Pfizers and studying part time.
    Not only did they have more money than me but they had a better education.

    I really hope my son gets a good job without going to University!!

  4. I’m deeply doubtful about the argument that education actually incalculates obedience to authority – along with the free-marketers you mention, people like Gandhi, Martin Luthor King, and Nelson Mandela were both educated and not noticeably tolerant of the policies of the states they lived under.

  5. So an unspoken and underlying motivation to push 50% of the population through the unis is to make sure that 50% of the population owe their training to, and have been trained by, said State.

    Which is rather likely to increase the future influence of said State, no?

    I think you assume too much about the political motives of these people. They’re not interested in getting people to spend 3 years at university to make them good little footsoldiers of Che. They just want them to spend lots of money.

    Some degrees are little more than a scam. There are people doing degrees in photography, despite the fact that most of the theory can be taught in a couple of weeks. The rest is about natural talent, experience and luck.

  6. I can’t see, either in Tim’s post or the comments, anybody arguing that “education incalculates obedience to authority“. Tim, in fact, explicitly argues that the experience may make people more cynical about state provision. But I may be missing something wholly obvious.

    Now, there is an argument that being exposed to the prejudices of degree-qualified teachers may increase your belief in the value of degrees.

    people like Gandhi, Martin Luthor (sic) King, and Nelson Mandela were both educated and not noticeably tolerant of the policies of the states they lived under.

    But these were exceptional individuals – any realistic version of the argument you are disagreeing with should relate to the “common mass of humanity”. Who are generally assumed to be rather more gullible (you might refer to this as ‘educable’) than your three examples are usually considered.

  7. Early in my academic career I was interviewed by a social science wallah who wanted to know, she said, my views on university education. I started along the lines of “we’d better distinguish courses intended to educate from those intended to indoctrinate”. She had conniptions.

  8. The only downside of the PwC A-level recruits I noted in my time there working with them was that the vast majority of the male cohort were not ready to work in that environment. For blokes, the three years at University was useful for learning about how to be a grown-up. Girls, biology has dictated, mature faster.. and the difference is still fairly noticable at age 18. The girls we recruited tended to be far more useful employees for the first couple of years, but it evened out after that for those blokes who survived that long.

    I do entirely agree that it’s nonsense to insist that a university degree is essential for most careers.. but whilst the course content may well be irrelevant, there are other reasons why employers might prefer that their recruits have taken another few years to learn a few more life lessons and get some stuff out of their system.

    Not following the herd to University will be an excellent choice for a great many 18-year-olds, but trying to embark on a ‘career’ at that age might not be the best plan either.

  9. Surreptitious Evil:
    Yes, I know that no one argued that. Tim just raised the question, to quote him: “Which is rather likely to increase the future influence of said State, no?” He didn’t actually present any arguments for, and indeed promptly raised a counter-example. I was just adding to the counter-examples – I’ve encountered the argument itself made explicitly elsewhere and felt it was worth my time here to point out some further examples that contradict them.

    As for Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mandela, yes, they were exceptional individuals but also ones with many followers and admirers amongst the people they were fighting for. It is possible that the great mass of their followers were gullible, but for some reason said followers were picking to follow people who were in conflict with the state, rather than leaders who were in line with what the state was thinking.

    Plus, in my experience, people making the argument never bother with citing any real-world examples to support it, so four counter-examples (Tim’s 1 example plus mine) mean that my side has 4*infinity better evidence to support it. 🙂

  10. ‘Why would anyone who wished to do this for a living need to be exposed to fourth rate interpretations of third rate poseurs like Derrida?’

    Who the hell wouldn’t if the alternative was another another bloody day on a golf course?

    ‘So an unspoken and underlying motivation to push 50% of the population through the unis is to make sure that 50% of the population owe their training to, and have been trained by, said State.’

    We’ll make a Chomskyite of you yet:-))

  11. Whilst I was there I met people living in Canterbury who were working at Pfizers and studying part time. Not only did they have more money than me but they had a better education

    And now it’s been shut down. This is the advantage of degree-level skills over pure vocational ones – if your industry dies, then it’s a hell of a lot easier to shift into another one.

  12. If as a minister you ask a union or an interest group if it would be a good idea for the government to throw billions of £s at their industry, you shouldn’t be surprised if they recommend it highly

  13. Not following the herd to University will be an excellent choice for a great many 18-year-olds, but trying to embark on a ‘career’ at that age might not be the best plan either.

    Well there are plenty of other options:
    – Join the armed forces (“Visit exotic places, meet interesting people, and kill them!” according to my brother)
    – Take low-paid work in an adventure guide job – say teaching scuba-diving out of Cairns, Australia, or working as a snow instructor and following winter around the globe.
    – Attempt to make it in music/theatre/Silicon Valley/whatever
    – Trying your hand at sales

    Most of these have the benefit of at least paying something towards living costs.

    Of course there are some members of the male part of the species who are best off at uni at that age, by all accounts Sir Isaac Newton was hopeless at doing anything else.

  14. Tracey – re “armed forces” – my dad had that on a sweatshirt when I was a kid. Unfortunately, either my mum or my nan had it destroyed before I could steal it and wear it as Vintage Clothing With Teenage Political Statement.

  15. Tracy W @ 4:

    “the argument that education actually incalculates obedience to authority ”

    Inculcates?

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