It’s once again that a Guardian article that gets me thinking and in this case it’s about the current university situation in the UK
However it’s something that has been on my mind since a conversation in Narberth a week or so ago as Cheryl and I sat down for coffee in the rather entertaining medina style cafe. A friend joined us along with two of her lecturer colleagues at Trinity St Davids in Carmarthen. They teach part time (and note part time) on a theatre design and technical course, but have only limited contact time with students and their earning hours are low. All need other work to make ends meet.
So if their contact time is low then so must be the contact time the students have. In effect the students who are therefore paying good money so little staff input. Actually teaching weeks is now less than 20 per annum, so what is stopping universities offering 2 year rather than 3 year degrees. For humanities courses in particular that seems possible. One of the comments in the Guardian comment and regularly banded about is that university is an education in itself and whilst I got good things from being a student, I was already a student of life before going to the Polytechnic of Wales and brought that ethic from 4 years work into how I approached my studies.
I’m not a humanities graduate and my own Polytechnic computer studies education contained many practical elements that I still use with work everyday; it was vocational. Also I didn’t pay for it then, but have subsequently paid more than most current students though higher earnings and hence higher taxes.
My grant over 3 years for my degree was £7500 and for my PhD and at the time central government provided the Poly around £3000 per student per year for taught courses and less for post graduate studies. Total cost to the tax payer around £30,000. From memory in around 2008 my tax bill was around that and I’ve been a higher rate tax payer since around 2003. I’ve paid it back at well above a 6% interest rate they are now asking, but of course there are no guarantees. With an increasing number of university students and an associated number of graduates without graduate jobs then that risk is too great for the state to take. An additional 2-3% for ex graduates on their higher rate of tax, if they earn it.
So why 3 year courses? Money and status. However this is for the institution and not for lecturers or students it seems. It might also be those individuals, students and parents who think attending university has some status. I think those days are going if not gone already.
I’m also intrigued why students are not more bolshy: some rioting and having protest sit-ins at various university offices, complaining they are being stitched up would be a start. The lecturers who are part time, low paid and have no tenure will probably join them. When your vice chancellor pay takes 10% of the cost of running a university somethings a bit fishy and crap (hmm though makes you wonder what the percentage for a tech company CEO is, I’ll check Jim).
University isn’t for all but recent governments have tried to make that happen but at the cost of lowering the meaning and if anything increasing the elitism of the top universities. Colleges of Higher Education and Polytechniques new there place and did a good job (well at least with me) and I’m sure the Polytechnique of Wales taught the right stuff for a market and cohort that wanted it.
Is it thatcheristic economics at work ? Nope but a state and a market that has a false view of the university system and it’s benefits