Universities in the UK face a number of different challenges, but none more serious than from a growing coalition of professional and vocational training providers, which are questioning the value of going to the university. Somewhat paradoxically, at the surface at least, these efforts are driven by the two-plank strategy of the government - of cutting university funding which will hit the middle tier universities hard, and on the other hand, putting money on Apprenticeship programmes and projecting these as the panacea of all the social ills in Britain - while the Government ministers, as their lives and discourses show, are deeply reverential of the Oxbridge model, of the great education that the top-tier British universities provide. The growing traction of this opinion stream, that a student loses nothing but his indebtedness by not going to the university, is evident in the number of mentions websites like www.notgoingtouni.co.uk gets in various news forums. This is joined by the concerns over student debt, in the UK but more prominently in America, where the student debt has become larger than credit card debt and questions about what value university education brings have become most common.
This is an interesting debate to follow, as this is contemporaneous with the debate about national competitiveness and the value of talent. At one hand, there are claims being made that the Western economies must maintain their talent edge over the emerging economies of the South, and on the other, it seems that the governments are less keen on funding the 'white elephant' universities and want to channel a growing amount to work-based learning and other pursuits of less glamorous nature. This becomes even more interesting when contrasted with what is going on in some of the emerging market economies: China is funding and developing a group of soon-to-be-elite universities and India is setting up more Indian Institutes of Technology and of Management. The private sector in India is particularly interested in setting up Higher Education facilities, often in collaboration with the British or American ones, and a number of high profile corporate-sponsored universities are springing up in India.
There are a number of ways observers are trying to reconcile these apparent paradoxes. The observers on the street are pointing out that countries like India had a low capacity of Higher Education, so such expansion is natural. However, seats in Indian Engineering Colleges and Business Schools go vacant, whereas British universities are full (this year, there was very little available for 'clearing') and have to turn down more than 250,000 students this year. The ministers' apathy to Higher Education is usually explained by the urgency of bridging the social divide and getting more people into more accessible form of education, or, conversely, from their inherent class bias and commitment to a two-tier system, and a deep disregard for middle ranking universities and the talk surrounding social mobility. The most unexplained bit in this debate is the fact that expansion of higher education in most developing countries is both quantitative and qualitative, so these countries have not just more seats but better provisions, and the decline, particularly in Britain, is bound to be qualitative too, given the deep cuts that went into the humanities subjects and the prevalence of 'jobs as the end goal of education' argument.
Without being a starry eyed idealist, one can possibly argue that the jobs and education equation is a disaster. Agreed that a young student must not waste their time learning a skill which isn't socially desirable or important, but to judge that social desirability in terms of how much salary one gets at the end of education is a stupid mistake. However, this is exactly where the preachers of social mobility is at one with the high priests of elitism in education: The masses go to college to serve their masters who will have sole preserve to social decision making after studying History and Classics at Oxford or Economics at Cambridge. The whole idea is that education is for doing and earning, and the job of thinking can be farmed out to someone who are better educated in some mystery-shrouded institution. And, if you are not expected to think, what's the point of going to the University?
Yet, this is strange in a world where the policy-makers, the ones entrusted to think, are proving to be so consistently wrong. Education is surely not working, and it is evident in the fact that we are always coming up with theories as evidently wrong as education does not work. Indeed, I shall not read too much in the growing cacophony of not going to uni kind; these are primarily made by desperate sorts who will send their own children to university by the money they make out of government hand-outs for running the apprenticeship machine. I read not much in the enthusiasm about apprenticeships, and rather see this as a replacement of the previous government's love affair with the NEETs. I am not sure about the social mobility argument, as these schemes are rather patronizing to its recipients and is set up to be a two-tier system where some people are supposed to work and others are supposed to rule. The whole drive to create this alternate education system is inherent in this regressive world-view of exclusivity, however counter-intuitive, perfectly in line with the thinking of an administration which will keep the interest rates down to save house-owners £50 billion a year, while the savers, typically poor people, lose £41 billion, and everyone else faces a high inflation.
Indeed, I am an optimist and see that people will defeat these schemes and still want to go to university if they could. Popular aspirations have always defeated political cynicism, and this will be another such time in history where people will prove cleverer than their masters. I worry about student debts, but the solution to that is in making the universities less insular and more effective, and not barring or inducing people to drop out from Higher Education altogether. We face a world where rules are not certain, and indeed, everyone would need to think for themselves: Good citizenship, if that's the goal, stands on thinking citizenship, not contented citizenship. Higher Education, even if we love t hate it, remains the only route to salvation in a society nearing its judgement day.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.