Thursday, December 9, 2010

UK Higher Education, Fees, Riots and Royals

I want to begin this post by stating that I am a free market type chap. I believe in personal freedoms, so please no "commie" or "socialist" lash outs, I am neither. I also wish to state that I will never condone the violent actions of some student protestors in the UK as they give voice to their feelings of outrage over increases in fees (tuition for those reading in the USA). Today was a day of protests, like many before, that ended with a can of paint being thrown at the car carrying the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. I doubt that much of the violence was orchestrated by students, rather I fear others had a hand in this (perhaps someone from a DIY chain decided to “launch” a new product)

That said, I also do not condone, and roundly condemn the steep increase in higher education fees that has just passed the House of Commons and now awaits the virtual rubber stamp of the House of Lords and Royal Assent from the Queen (doubtless given with gusto as one of her limos now has a pebble dash paint job).

I know that budgetary times are very tough and that there must be belt tightening and personal sacrifice in nations around the world. I have heard most of the arguments from both sides, “education is right” vs. “education is a privilege”. Well my unvarnished view is that education is the price that every civilization must pay, a burden every nation must be willing to bear, if they are to succeed and grow. Educating the next generation is our unselfish gift to each other. It sustains our civilization.

I received higher education on both sides of the Atlantic, at two excellent institutions(and never launched a paint can in anger, but I digress). In the UK (as in the US) I studied with some of the finest and brightest individuals I have ever had the privilege to know. Many of these great people would never have been able to attend university if it had not been for the fact that their education was funded by the state. I know my life would have been poorer had I not met them, and I know the land of my birth would have been poorer had they not received that education.

I have been reading the press in the USA over the last few days and realize it is easy for some in this country to criticize students in the UK as “leeches” and “parasites” (direct quotes from news sites) that are not bearing their fair share. I have seen much more than that in print over the past few days. It is easy to say because paying for higher education is, and has been, part of the American culture, although the Constitution of the great state of North Carolina contains an injunction to make public education as free from cost as possible. Paying for education in the UK, however, is not part of the culture, and it should not be; I would even venture so far as to say that the framers of the North Carolina Constitution had it right as far as the US is concerned (but that is another day and another blog).

Regardless of what the British politicians may say (and there is plenty of blame to go around because the Con/Lib coalition is just building of what New Labour began) there is every reason to look for savings elsewhere. No person should ever be denied an education because they do not have the bank account for it. To be sure, there are cuts that need to be made, but none of those cuts should be hoisted on those seeking higher learning. Education is “we the people” investing in our future.

So how could things improve? First, and harsh as it may sound, the UK and other nations must recognize that they have pushed too many people into higher education that simply do not belong there and by so doing they have spread resources too thin and have developed some degrees that, unfortunately, are laughable and should be done away with. Second, and an area where the UK could take a leaf out of the USA higher education book, is in the field of philanthropy. Contributions made by individuals or corporations to educational institutions should be fully tax deductible. Finally, they should look for redundancies and duplication in higher education and make cuts there before looking at any student to shoulder a burden. There are many more things that could be done (just ask any London cabbie) but there is not enough room here.

We have just seen a huge burst of a financial bubble relative to mortgages. Already, in the USA, and likely soon in the UK, a huge bubble is higher education loan debt. Does anyone really want to over-inflate another bubble?


  1. Great post Peter, I agree with parts of it... I wish we could convince more young adults that the only thing a civilized nation owes them is liberty. Anything else has to come from the government taking it from one citizen to give it to another. Perhaps these increases will spark more grants/scholarships/personal giving to help offset the cost. Sometimes maybe the egg has to come before the chicken.

  2. In my opinion, Peter has hit the bulls-eye with his statement that "they have pushed too many people into higher education that simply do not belong there and by so doing they have spread resources too thin and have developed some degrees that, unfortunately, are laughable and should be done away with". The government's action to increase fees is a mechanism, if a bit blunt, to weed out valueless degrees. All to often I see young graduates emerging from the 'education' system so green and vacant that we virtually have to start from scratch at considerable cost to UK Plc. Better to take them on from 18 and give them working experience to discover for themselves the career path they might best excel at. The reaction of students/activists is that of small children throwing a tantrum when an expensive game is removed from them after it's been abused.

  3. If they want it, they should pay for it. They are spoiled children who have had their toys taken away. Well written, but wrong!