Could we get rid of most University Education?
A bold thing to say? I don’t think so.
My father was a bank manager before he retired in the 1970s. He was a bank manager in the days when the job was far harder than now. There was no automated credit checking, there were no computer terminals to keep records, and mortgage interest was worked out using books of tables. He decided whether customers were a good risk by interviewing them and using his experience and good judgement, not an algorithm.
He left school at fourteen, worked little jobs and had a job in the post office before being given an opportunity in a junior role with the company. The rest of his education was done through certification at the company’s cost and he eventually ended up as a very senior branch manager running a branch with a large number of employees.
You need a degree to train do his job now, even though it hasn’t changed and is probably easier.
My education was different. I went to school in the 1970s just after comprehensive education was brought in. The UK government was very keen to prove the system and so pushed anyone who could add up into academic courses. I liked art, music, woodwork and design and yet in the sixth form, I did maths and sciences because that is the direction I was pushed. I hated it and was out of my depth, so I dropped out.
At the time, far fewer of us went to Uni than now, but this was the turning point. The government wanted to push university education as the answer to all our sins. They were not alone. Companies wanted it as well and this was reflected in countries right across the world.
I don’t need to tell you the rest of the story, you all know it. It is now the UK government’s dream that at least 50% of all students do a degree. If they can raise that in years to come, they will. The question is, what does it achieve?
The answer is possibly, bugger all.
You do not need a university education to do the majority of jobs in this world. You do not need a university education to do the majority of jobs that say you MUST have a university education to even apply. Like for the job of a bank manager. For most who struggle through Uni, they will never use the knowledge they gained there, or could have easily learned it on the job; probably better.
Of course, there are jobs where a University Education is vital. Sciences are the perfect example, medicine another. But how many of us want to be scientists, whether we are capable or not?
So why the hell do we do this?
I don’t think there is one answer here, but a selection of reasons that have created a snowball effect across the world and the years.
Certainly, government ministers like to boast about getting people into Uni, so that is part of the drive; their careers. Then there are the companies who save a fortune in training new employees by having them at least part-trained beforehand, saving them money. Of course, many companies started to demand degrees just as a way of filtering people out, making their recruitment procedure quicker.
We should probably mention parents. None of your kids went to Uni? You bloody failure! What sort of parent are you?
Trouble is, we do it to the kids as well. Not bright enough to get to Uni? Waste of space!
I think there is another one too: we don’t like our kids growing up.
Back to my father who went to work at fourteen. He contributed to the family. It wasn’t much, but it was what a lot of people did. He always said that he didn’t miss out on childhood as at fourteen he was mature enough to work; so were all his friends. They still had fun, though it was modified by the fact they had poor backgrounds, but that is a different issue.
When I dropped out of school, it was for two reasons. Firstly, I might have been alright at maths, but I was terribly unhappy with what I was forced to learn; it wasn’t me. But secondly, I had had a summer job and had been introduced to the world of work, the world of grownups, if you like. I liked it. I fitted in. And I changed because of it.
When I dropped out at 16, many of my friends stayed on to do A-Levels and some went to Uni. When I ran into them again at 21, they were a pile of kids still. Nothing wrong with that, but they were years behind those of us who had been working for five years. They weren’t as mature as the rest of us, though some had gained a gloss of arrogance. Most hadn’t, thankfully.
In the long run, many of them have done better than me; the Uni system opened up opportunities for them. But it wasn’t the education or knowledge gained that helped them. Many of them ended up in jobs where the subject matter of the degree had no relevance at all; it just opened the door. They do not think faster than I do or work harder or are more capable. They just went to Uni.
Of course, I am talking the 70s here and they all had grants.
Today, when the same thing happens, not only might they end up with a degree that they never use, but also a massive debt. And why? So a door could open and a government minister put his education policy success on his CV.
What is the answer?
There isn’t one, or there is, but it will never happen. We are too stuck in this global groove of ultra-education and I cannot see how we can ever jump out of it.
If I could go back in time, then that would be different.
Young people could be allowed to grow up at the speed that is natural to them; so much faster than we allow them to now.
We could allow young people to work younger, but then go back to education when they had really worked out what they wanted for themselves, not to meet a government target.
We could force employers to start training people again from scratch. Strangely, they would discover that many of those they trained would be more loyal than the modern Uni bunch — they would have reason to be; they grew up with the company.
There would be less “us and them” and we would not have the current situation where a whole swathe of young society are marginalised and overlooked because they didn’t get to Uni.
And most importantly, because far fewer young people would need to have a pure academic education and so far, far fewer would go to uni, then higher education might once more be free.
Because the more young people we send to University, the less we can afford it.
When it turns out that for many the education was a waste of time, aside from opening a door, then that cost both in money and in unhappy, pressurised young people becomes madness.