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Wings Over Scotland


Right leg in, left leg out

Posted on May 14, 2012 by

The sheer speed and barely-concealed enthusiasm with which Scottish Labour has reverted to its true neo-liberal type given even the slightest sniff of any kind of electoral success has been startling. Having gained a few dozen seats, almost all from the Lib Dems, in the council elections, the party has lurched back to the centre-right positions it occupied before the 2011 Holyrood parliamentary election, having abandoned several of them in the run-up to that vote in a desperate attempt to avert defeat.

We’ve already seen Johann Lamont doggedly refuse to oppose the renewal of Trident, and Glagow council leader Gordon Matheson prepare to backtrack on years of anti-sectarian progress by allowing the Orange Order to greatly increase its toxic presence on the city’s streets (a prime example of the Bain Principle at work, in the wake of the SNP’s controversial Offensive Behaviour At Football Act – if the SNP are taking steps to tackle sectarianism, Labour must take steps to encourage it, however insane that is or whatever their previous policy might have been).

And last week we saw a party whose 2011 manifesto opened with the dire warning “Now that the Tories are back” take every possible opportunity to jump into bed with the Tories in councils all over the country, giving the lie to the constantly-pushed official media narrative that the SNP and Labour are two near-identical centre-left social-democratic parties separated only by their disagreement over independence.

(Since the constitution is outwith the remit of councils, you might therefore imagine that Labour-SNP coalitions would be the norm all over the country, aimed at fighting savage Tory cuts together while Holyrood argues about the referendum, but Labour seems far more concerned with battling the nationalists rather than the right-wing Coalition and its increasingly discredited austerity programme.)

So perhaps nobody ought to be surprised that at the weekend Johann Lamont decided to test public opinion by suggesting that Scottish Labour – which is currently strangely at odds with the UK party on the subject – might once again abandon its opposition to university tuition fees.

Such opposition is itself a fairly new stance, of course. Labour introduced tuition fees in the first place, and in December 2010 had asserted that Scotland could no longer afford a different policy to that of England. The party’s education spokesman Des McNulty was issuing dire warnings about the unsustainability of free university education as recently as 29th February this year – having claimed a year earlier that a graduate tax was inevitable, only to be humiliated a mere two months later when the Scottish branch announced a complete U-turn, promising neither upfront fees or graduate taxes under the banner “NO PRICE TAG ON EDUCATION”.

But the Damascene conversion of Scottish Labour to free tuition was much more short-lived even than that. The opportunistic cynicism of the move was revealed just four weeks after the 2011 election, when the party’s right-wing stalking horse Tom Harris came out with this statement on his “LabourHame” blog:

“Labour and the SNP made the same promise to the electorate in May: that we would maintain free higher education for Scotland’s students. And that was a mistake. Because we can’t. And even if we could, we shouldn’t.”

Despite cultivating the image of an outspoken maverick, Harris is in reality the embodiment of mainstream opinion in modern Labour (Scottish or otherwise), so the writing was always on the wall for the free-tuition policy. Lamont’s speech at the weekend was just a test of public opinion, emboldened by Labour’s success (relative to predictions) at the council elections. And it’s a test likely to meet with approval.

Despite the disproportionately loud voice given to students by the more liberal elements of the UK media, tuition fees are actually quite popular in principle with the general public – partly as a result of a constant barrage of attacks in the right-wing press over “worthless” degrees, and also partly because a fairly broad cross-section of voters believe that in hard economic times we shouldn’t be spending taxpayers’ money to send people to university to study art history or poetry.

There is, of course, nothing wrong in a party adopting policies it believes will win votes. The breathtaking thing about Scottish Labour’s policy hokey-cokey, though, is just how transparently cynical it is.

Labour got elected in 1997 with Tony Blair promising the Evening Standard just three weeks before polling day that “Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education”, but then introduced tuition fees in 1998. The party stood for re-election in 2001 with another heartfelt pledge to students – this time that it wouldn’t introduce top-up fees – but then passed the legislation breaking the pledge in 2005, on the staggeringly disingenuous justification that it wouldn’t actually take effect until after that year’s general election and was therefore not covered by the manifesto promise.

Meanwhile, the party abolished up-front fees in Scotland in 2000, but imposed a graduate tax. The SNP did away with it on its election in 2007, and Labour has been agitating more and less actively for its return ever since, depending on whether it thought it could gain political advantage from it or not. The panicked response between March and June of 2011 – in which the idea of student contributions was abandoned for the period of the election and effectively re-adopted immediately afterwards – was only the most obvious manifestation of the fluidity of Labour’s “principles”, not a new one.

So despite the exciteable claims to the contrary that are already appearing on nationalist blogs and in comment sections, there’s nothing surprising in Johann Lamont’s careful laying of the ground for yet another Labour policy reversal on higher-education financing. Labour has consistently and demonstrably lied to students for the last 15 years, and only the most naive ought to be expecting anything different by now.

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    38 to “Right leg in, left leg out”

    1. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

      The public at large may be edging towards the belief in paying for education directly, but that is due only to the onslaught of a right wing media machine for over the last decade.

      An educated workforce can act as a driver for the economy, bringing in Foreign Direct Investment who are looking for skilled workers, usually for good paying jobs.

      As far as development goes it is better than trying to take part in a rush to the bottom, a mad dash to try and undercut the costs of production so as to compete with China and other low cost countries.

      Of course, this is a completely absurd notion, resulting in the degredation of the quality of employment and jobs available, and through the removal of education; abolishing the only chance to reverse that death spiral into economic mediocrity.

      Education benefits society as a whole, it needs to remain free from Tuition fees and Graduate Taxes (of whatever name they choose to call them).

      BUT… I do concede that there are courses that do not add value to the wider economy and are undertaken for purely intellectual purposes.

      While many would advocate scrapping these courses, or seeing them funded through tuition fees, I worry that this would set a precident that would be open to abuse down the line.

      My proposal is to say that courses such as ‘History of Art’, ‘Philosophy’ and the like, are reduced in size so that only those with the best academic scores are accepted for these courses, and scarce resources can be ploughed into ensuring that funding for main stream education is maintained.

    2. R Louis says:

      Actually what I find really frustrating amongst all of this, is the number of Scottish students who mistakenly think that it is Labour who oppose tuition fees.

    3. Cuphook says:

      @Scott Minto 

      It looks like you’ve been affected by the ‘barrage of attacks in the right-wing press over “worthless” degrees’ that the Rev mentions.

      To seriously suggest that History of Art and Philosophy don’t add value to the wider economy is a nonsense, and having read many of your posts online, I don’t think that it’s worthy of you. I suggest that you do some research on the matter. To suggest ‘that only those with the best academic scores are accepted for these courses’ also strikes me as illogical as if this sort of rule were to be introduced into academia surely you’d want to apply it to Civil Engineering and Aeronautics where some benefit could be perceived.

      Free education should also be about free choice. Who are we to tell someone the worth of their course and their plans?

    4. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

      @Cuphook

      On the contrary… I do not believe that there are any ‘Worthless Degrees’ but that there is in fact oversubscription to some courses that far exceeds the capacity to utilise the degree upon completion in a job environment.

      When confronted with constraints on budgets I would advocate ensuring that the courses remain free to all who wish to undertake them, instead proposing that merit be the deciding factor rather than wealth.

      If the options are to close courses, charge fees or reduce the size of intakes then surely the latter is the fairest appraoch as the only prerequisite would be ability.

      You will note that I did not advocate abolishing courses, as I do understand the value that is added by having a varied educational output, however we still remain in a situation where resources are being squeezed. I do not believe that Fees or Graduation Taxes are the way to address that problem.

      You are right that we cannot tell someone the worth of their course or their plans, but if we are to ensure that the benefit of free education is maintained then we do need to look at prioritizing what resources we have, and looking to maximise the return in specific fields as part of a coherent strategy for the economy.

      History of Art and Philosophy were only 2 examples of Intellectual pursuits rather than education for participation in the private sector. Please do not misconstrue this as an attack on the validity of anyones degree, it is not intended as such.

       

    5. MajorBloodnok says:

      Knowledge and appreciation of history, philosophy, art, music, literature, culture and dead or morbund languages is the mark of a civilised society; and no, I’m not being ironic.  Think how important our culture and history is for our sense of identity – and it’s not just for the tourists; and also how useful and interesting it is to know and understand the culture, history and thought processes of others.

      Somehow or other (ultimately, I blame Thatcher) this utilitarian conception of education, that it’s sole purpose is to be of direct and obvious use in fuelling the economy, is now so ingrained that people don’t even see it as a simplistic and dangerous assumption or presupposition about how our society should work.  And yet, to lose all that knowledge and ways of thinking would surely diminish us and make us just the utilitarian, ignorant and grasping consumers that the Tories and Labour want us to be.

      They want us to be ignorant, signing up to the system without any way of knowing that there might be an alternative so that they can stay in power and keep the money – that’s the bottom line.  It’s a bit like the fact of media control in Scotland right now, where there is a definite ‘line’, a set of assumptions about the UK, that has to be maintained and other approaches or visions are dismissed and ridiculed, the point being that they want to keep us ignorant if they can.

      I want Scotland to be a civilised place – to get away from the ignorance and growing barbarism of the rest of the UK with its utilitarian and shallow assumptions and thank God at least there is still one party, the SNP, making that happen.

    6. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

      @MajorBloodnok

      “Knowledge and appreciation of history, philosophy, art, music, literature, culture and dead or morbund languages is the mark of a civilised society”

      And yet you do not need to have a Degree to have appreciation and understanding of these things. Should these not be the basis of education in the earlier years, preparing our youth with the tools to question their surroundings?

    7. MajorBloodnok says:

      @SneekyBoy

      1) Sure, you can find out about these things and appreciate them, but if you want a deep understanding and knowledge then university is where you’d get that  – I bought a book, “Spanish in 3 Months” in 1986 and I’m still not able to read Don Quixote in the original – I know there’s no money in late 16th Spanish literature but it would be interesting, wouldn’t it?;

      2) The repository and development of this knowledge (it’s not static) is in universities – and if it’s not taught then there are no departments and no teachers and then it is lost to those societies that think it unimportant (when I was at Glasgow they were busy shutting down eastern european language departments because it was decided that they weren’t needed – then the Berlin Wall came down…);

      3) Ignorance can be defined as “not knowing that you don’t know” – and that is exactly it.  If your learning is not directed by those who do know, then it is likely that you will never know (that you don’t know that you don’t know).

      4) Philosophical ideas can shape and change the world – utilitarianism and communism are just two of these.

      5) We need to know as much as we can about as much as we can – it saves us from those that want to control what we know and think (see my Scottish media metaphor).  That approach to knowledge per se has to be encouraged and supported.

      6) …er…

    8. Captain Caveman says:

      Who are we to tell someone the worth of their course and their plans?”

      Who are we…? Well, if by “we”  you mean the earning, wealth-creating, productive UK taxpayers, well, we are the twats picking up the tab – that’s who.

      Well said Scott, though I seriously doubt many of your audience here will appreciate your entirely fair-minded and deeply pragmatic sentiments.

    9. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

      @MajorBloodnok

      Good valid points, but how do you square the circle of reducing resources with achieving intellectual freedom and education, while maintaining main stream learning?

      Re Spanish: I took lessons, was good for about three months, lost it from non usage, can still order a drink though! 😀

    10. myk says:

      @SneekyBoy
      “Should these not be the basis of education in the earlier years, preparing our youth with the tools to question their surroundings?”
       
      Perhaps one reason they are not is because giving children the tools to question their surroundings does not ‘add value to the economy’. I’m not sure if it’s entirely a coincidence that modern schooling arose in parallel to the factory.

      “[…] if we are to ensure that the benefit of free education is maintained then we do need to look at prioritizing what resources we have, and looking to maximise the return in specific fields as part of a coherent strategy for the economy.

      History of Art and Philosophy were only 2 examples of Intellectual pursuits rather than education for participation in the private sector.”

      If students are to be regarded as a product to which value is added for the benefit of industry, shouldn’t industry be paying for it?

    11. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

      @myk

      “If students are to be regarded as a product to which value is added for the benefit of industry, shouldn’t industry be paying for it?”

      It’s a good question. I would rather industry paid more for education through their contribution to taxes (Rates perhaps – something they cant dodge). Of course it also has to be remembered that the benefit to the general populace also means that education should be funded from taxation and not, as some would like (Looking at you here Labour), by forcing individuals to pay.

      But I dont think that we should look at students as merely a product, more an investment in society, one that we should try and achieve quantifiable results from. But while we live off of the pocket money we are allowed back from Westminster, we are effectively stuck with a reducing budget and only a limited scope for maneouvering.

      Option 1 – Charge all students
      Option 2 – Charge for some courses, while leaving others free
      Option 3 – Close down courses and colleges due to lack of funding
      Option 4 – Maintain choice in facilities and courses but reduce intakes

      None are particularly appealing. If we lived in an ideal world we would have MajorBloodnok’s system of study whatever, whomever you are and wherever you want, but we do not live in an ideal world, we live in a world of compromise.

    12. JPJ2 says:

      A couple of points on philosophy:

      Very few actually take philosophy as a major part of their degree.

      Those few who do, have been proven to achieve very high employment levels as they have been taught how to think logically and can fit into and adapt to many different careers. That is the reality.

    13. Munguin says:

      Labour getting into bed with the Tories is nothing new it happened in 2007 in East Dunbartonshire. A look at the 2007 and 2012 results there suggests that it is the Tories that ought to worry about being in with Labour and not Labour. Last time the SNP got 8 councillors to Labours 6 and the Tories 5 with the Lib Dems on 3. This time the SNP still has 8, but Labour also has 8 the Tories now have 2 and the Lib Dems 3. The Tories support has dwindled quicker than even the Lib Dems and they lost 2 seats to Labour and one to an independent. Meaning that this time round Labour need not only the Tories but also the Lib Dems to run things.
       
      In terms of vote share the SNP was 18.2% in 2007 rising to 25.4% in 2012; Labour was 25.9/28.3; Tories 21.5/15.4; Lib Dem 17.9/14.9. The SNP has overtaken the Tories in terms of share of the vote and has a much bigger rise than Labour. The Lib Dem melt down does not seem to be so pronounced here and the party given the bigger kicking of the two coalition partners was the Tories, indeed all said and done it’s a good result for the Lib Dems as they held onto all their seats and got back into power.

    14. myk says:

      @SneekyBoy
      Yes, I agree that education should be publicly funded, but precisely because it is a public good and not necessarily something that has quantifiable benefits in the narrow economic sense. If the benefits of a particular course are quantifiable it is those courses that would be better suited to control via supply-side filtering on ability, funding etc. and it would be on the basis of those benefits that I’d argue for contributions from industry.

      Terms like ‘investment’, ‘product’, ‘added value’ all come from business, and whilst they are appropriate for running a business efficiently I’m wary of any assumption that this sort of logic is universally appropriate. MajorBloodnok is on to something when he says this utilitarian conception is so ingrained; it can almost seem like a natural law like gravity, and I suppose that is what I was responding to.

      Universal, free education is an ideal much like an independent Scotland: we start with the idea as a goal, and then decide how we get there, rather than starting by assuming compromise 🙂

    15. R Louis says:

      If somebody studies for and gains a degree, then as they earn they pay income tax.  The more they earn, the more tax they pay.  In that context, the notion of tuition fees for students is quite misplaced.  The sole argument for tuition fees, is that as such people inevitably earn more, so they should contribute more in the way of tax.  Well, even without tuition fees, they do, through the PAYE tax system – the more they earn, the more they pay.

      I personally know that I would never have gone to study science, had tuition fees been in place.  There are many like me from very poor backgrounds who would have been in the same situation.  To me or my family, the notion of having a debt of 36000 pounds plus any other additional living bills racked up during a course would have ensured I didn’t go.

      Make no mistake, graduates who earn more, DO pay much more in taxes via PAYE, the addition of tuition fees is merely a regressive measure, which will deter even the brightest minds from poor backgrounds from applying, whether loans are available or not. 

      It is a right wing policy, and I am flummoxed as to why Labour in Scotland support it.  Those politicians who support it and vote for it, should at the very least be willing to pay back the equivalent cost of their degrees, which invariably they personally got for free.  One person in particular who might like to consider such an idea is Labour’s very own Johann Lamont, who studied English and History at Glasgow University.

    16. TheMaganator says:

      How many votes do you think the SNP gained by promising to ‘forgive’ all student debt?

      A policy that has, conveniently, disappeared into the ether… 

    17. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

      No idea, but the policy was opposed by the other parties and therefore couldn’t be implemented by a minority government in 2007. Subsequently there was a massive economic crisis and it was no longer affordable (if it ever was), hence not being promised on the 2011 manifesto. Labour, on the other hand, explicitly promised things, won large majorities, then did the opposite. Similarly, the Tories and Lib Dems have a solid coalition with a convincing majority, but have done the opposite of what they promised. (Lib Dems: we’ll vote against tuition fees hikes. Tories: we won’t massively dick around with the NHS.)

    18. Kenny Campbell says:

      Scottish Labour support tuition fees as its a vote winner in middle England and its Anti SNP……the free Scottish education concept is salt in that open wound and that is why its challenged so much by right wingers. My argument to Colonel Mustard writing in the Telegraph is always the same. What do you think is wrong, is it that you pay and we dont or is it just that you pay….the real is answer is that they rightly see inequality and they hate it. Yet their is no main party now in Westminster who supports the view that education should be free in England. I’m sure its a vote winner in Scotland and its a real pain for the CONDEMLAB coalition….Only as recently as Feb Johann said free tertiary degrees was not sustainable…

    19. Suth says:

      If we cut some of the wasted spend elsewhere we’d have more money for important things like education and health. Stop dropping millions of pounds of equipment into the sandbox and elsewhere for starters. Then catch up with the tax dodgers, etc. The money could be found easily if there was a will for it in the corrupt and self-serving government. With all the taxes the public pay as it is it is ridiculous that there is so little to show for it.

    20. Seasick Dave says:

      Isn’t it ironic that we spend billions of pounds on nuclear and conventional weapons to prevent ‘terrorist’ attacks when it is actually our use of these weapons that is causing ‘terrorist’ attacks?

      Its ironic too, that its the police that have to thwart the attacks in Britain and not our military.

      I suppose we have to keep creating bogeymen to justify it all.

      Its certainly not the world that I want to live in but it certainly seems be to one that Unionist politicians glory in.

    21. Barbarian says:

      TheMaganator says:
      May 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      How many votes do you think the SNP gained by promising to ‘forgive’ all student debt?
      A policy that has, conveniently, disappeared into the ether…

      It has because the cost would be enormous. Why should the taxpayer pick up the tab for all student spending. If students want it all paid for, then let’s have receipts to prove that all their spending was on essential study material, basic food and travel. You have to do this to claim expenses at work (unless a politician of course!), so why not students? (And I have one chidl about start college this year, donations gratefully received!).
          

    22. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

      @Barbarian
      “Why should the taxpayer pick up the tab for all student spending”

      Because then it means that you are not limited by the accident of your birth. It is ability to achieve that is the prerequisite, not wealth. Society as a whole benefits through higher wages, taxes and money into the economy that in turn can be used to provide universal education to the next generation… and so on.

      I would rather pay for education than the travesty that is Trident on the Clyde. But C’est la Vie… we are in the Union and this is not how things are done. So budgets that benefit the people will be squeezed so that Westminster can pretend to still be a world power. 

      “I have one child about start college this year, donations gratefully received!”

      I guess that you dont live in Scotland, as if you did their education would be free. Maybe rather than asking for donations it would be a better use of time to petition your political parties to maintain the right to universal education based on merit not money.
           

    23. cirsium says:

      @ Scott “we do need to look at prioritizing what resources we have, and looking to maximise the return in specific fields as part of a coherent strategy for the economy.” 
      Scott – this is already being done.  The Scottish Higher and Further Education Funding Council already provides funding for more places in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics degrees which means that there are fewer places on other types of courses.  The number of places on teaching and medical degrees has always been the subject of planning.

       

    24. douglas clark says:

      Can I make a couple of points?

      It seems to me that higher education should not, exclusively, be in the hands of the merchants.

      The thing that is quite interesting about life is not the profit or loss of a company, it is perhaps about knowing, beyond contradiction, that this Universe started c 14.8 billion years ago. And that it evolved and eventually produced all the people that argue up and down on this site.

      On the back of that. Why would we ever pretend that the purpose of education is to produce ‘suitable candidates’ for bougeoise occupations?

      Is that all we are supposed to be?

      The human race has really got to escape from it’s commitment to servitude to ‘what other people think your life should be about’ and being better about ‘what you think your life should be about’.

      There are numerous examples of apparently meaningless research ending up meaning an aweful lot to the society you and I live in.

      Giving the ability to set an agenda for higher education to the merchant class –  who know all about the price of everything and the value of nothing – is that what we want to do?

      It is a completely fascile notion by the money grabbers of our society that they could pick and chose an appropriate line of research.

      The only line of research they would choose was one with an immediate pay off.

      I am interested in much of current science mainly because it has far longer term goals and hope than politicians.

      A question I hope to direct at Alex Salmond at some point is whether he would continue to fund ITER.

      Whether he does or does not won’t make a difference to how I will vote in 2014.

      But, for Scotland to embrace the future and not the past would, it seems to me, to be a tad better than what we have at the moment.
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       

    25. Kenny Campbell says:

      This whole argument is amazing, I wonder what our 17th and 18th Century ancestors of the enlightenment period would be saying.  I just find it disgusting that people who themselves had a free and sometimes paid for education are now saying kids need to pay.
       
      This whole ultititisation of the populous, making us all strive to be wee money making machines, if its not making money then its of no use. There is a part of me that would like to blame the Americanisation of the UK but I think deep down many of the issues are closer to home. If I look back just 100 years, employers did a fair amount of workforce training to ensure their own enterprises survived. It seems with modernisation that it was slowly and surely pushed back to the government and now today its being pushed by the government onto the populous directly. Good work by the employers…..
       
      While I would argue and agree that a degree in surfing and lifeguarding is probably a waste of resource I know that it probably doesnt exist and that >90% of degrees are of some use, even if only teaching some discipline.. If you swap the idea of education for national service it takes on a whole new vision for the right….yet it would still cost.
       
      The logical continuation of our stance on ‘good education’ and ‘bad education’ is that we’ll drop everything except maths and science or that anything liberal will only be available to rich folks. That essentially takes us back 300 years.

    26. Captain Caveman says:

      “… This whole argument is amazing, I wonder what our 17th and 18th Century ancestors of the enlightenment period would be saying.  I just find it disgusting that people who themselves had a free and sometimes paid for education are now saying kids need to pay. …”

      The assumption that, anyone who even dares to question the value and legitimacy of sending up to 50% of young people off to do degrees (often pretty decadent, demonstrably near-useless in terms of job prospects ones at that), all at the taxpayers’ expense whilst there are so many other worthy priorities, must be some crass hypocrite to a man and woman, universally benefiting from an all-expenses paid for degree of their own, is maddening.

      For the record, I come from a dirt poor background and never even made it to the Sixth Form, let alone University, like many others (indeed, I was thrown out from my home at the age of 16 and had to fend for myself from then on, working my little bollocks off in a factory for £35/week). I calculated the other day that the amount of tax that I have personally paid runs into many millions and could easily pay for an entire, brand-spanking primary school, and I did that not by shifting fucking Euros to Dollars or racking up massive legal fees getting the guilty off, but working in engineering making people’s lives better and less hazardous in many cases. Only last week I worked a 36-hour “day”, grabbing a couple of hours kip here and there in the back of my car – effectively sleeping rough day and night – only to produce a 50-page report, with full calculations, within 3 working days for a Public Enquiry. I actually collapsed with exhaustion at the end of it; I am 45 this week and getting far too long in the tooth for this. My “hourly rate” was *tiny* compared to many people who don’t have to work a fraction as hard as this.

      The point? The point is that, people like me understand the value of money; how hard it is to create it in any sort of quantity, by the sweat of our own brows. We don’t spend endless hours, days, weeks and years amusing ourselves on the internet; we see our hard-fought, hard-earned tax pounds being pissed away, or lectured by people who have contributed but a minute fraction of what we have, if anything at all, about how “uncivilised” we are; how we belong to the Poorhouse school of thought; how it is only “luck” that has got us into the positions we hold (not years and years at night school, risking everything, working to near death, enduring painful failures and indignities, whilst others collect their monthly pay cheques in comfortable, secure, public sector employments with a myriad of benefits).

      Given this understanding of the value of money, we rail against the notion that *any* student can do *any* degree – in unlimited numbers – regardless of their own merits and abilities, not to mention the needs of the economy that ultimately picks up the entire tab. Furthermore, we realise that the world – and most especially the public purse – is finite; for every “Student Grant” type with marginal A-levels (themselves subjected to huge grade inflation over the Labour years; I believe A-levels now have something like a 99% pass rate?!), doing Sociology or Accountancy with Dance, having all fees paid for, means that some pensioner somewhere (who fought for his or her country and has completed a lifetime of hard bloody work and contributions in taxes/NI), freezes in their home that they can’t afford to heat? Or perhaps is left in a puddle of their own piss and bed-sores because no-one can, or will, give them a decent, dignified last few years of their lonely and entirely undeserved life’s end?

      Of course, it is also assumed that people like me – who spent many years at night school and would never advise anyone to take the route that I had to take through no choice – are somehow anti-degrees and anti-education…? Which is an absolute outrage – NO-ONE cares more about the welfare, education and prospects of our young people than I do; there is nothing that I care more passionately about. Apart from anything else, I am both a father and grandfather.
       

    27. Captain Caveman says:

      Sorry, I exaggerate. The actual A-level pass rate is only 97.8%…

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/aug/18/a-level-pass-rate-hits-new-high  

    28. pa_broon says:

      @Captain Caveman

      A spot of inverted snobbery there perhaps?

      These useless degrees we’re talking about, art history, philosophy etc. Why are they useless? Is this question being answered from the correct position? The standard answer seems to be because there are no jobs for people who study these subjects and those that exist do not benefit the economy.

      I would ask why are these jobs so few and far between? Its certainly not the fault of the young folk who choose to study these subjects.

      I used to support the idea of charging for these kinds of courses and/or limiting their supply but I’ve changed my mind because its just another part of the general race-to-the-bottom thats going on in the UK, we also run the risk of our society turning into mad money-making robots lacking the ability to think outside their respective boxes.

      I take the same view with private/public sector pay and conditions, the private sector should be allowed to build their business so they can offer pay & conditions in line the the public sector, not vice versa. Its the same with uni education.

      Apart from anything else, being able to send out well educated, cultured people in to the world is only good for Scotland’s image abroad (which in turn is good for inward investment.) To deny a young person a place of study on the basis that its paid for by people who do ‘proper’ jobs is just inverted snobbery.

      It boils down to one thing and one thing only that we just don’t have at the moment: Good Governance.

    29. Captain Caveman says:

      A spot of inverted snobbery there perhaps?”

      No, perhaps wrong – entirely and absolutely. I go to very great, honest, heartfelt and earnest lengths to demonstrate that this is NOT a case of inverted snobbery, or envy, or whatever other similar charge you wish to make? Did you not read my post? You clearly don’t understand where I’m coming from here (or simply don’t want to understand, as seems more likely, since the points that I make and the reasons that I give are perfectly understandable and reasonable, and the very antithesis of inverted snobbery).

      Still, rather than to substantively address any of the points that I make – or indeed address them at all – it’s just so much easier for people to (yet again) level the entirely false charge that actually, it’s a case of “well I didn’t have it, so you can’t” mentality on my part, or similar smears. Sigh. What’s the point. You can’t engage into a discussion or debate where the other party won’t even take on your arguments.

    30. CW says:

      I am a national prize winning First-Class Honours graduate from an ancient university undertaking a masters and it looks unlikely that I will receive any funding for further postgraduate study in History. There is literally almost no postgraduate funding left in the Humanities at our major universities in Scotland. The logical end point of utilitarian attitudes to education is that rich people (often substantially less well-qualified than those candidates who do not have the ability to pay) will write our history. Not only will this damage the quality of research produced, but it will also directly affect the way in which we view and understand ourselves and our society. This process is already well underway, and several academics have asked me if I am capable of ‘self-funding’ a Ph.D.  I am, however, heartened at the level of debate here. You will all, of course, notice the obvious hypocrisy of politicians with degrees that might be described as somewhat less than vocational constantly undermining the ability of young people to pursue those fields of study themselves. There is an awful lot more to education than its directly measurable impact upon our economy, and I think if we cast our prejudices aside, then we all basically do understand this. We need to change the way we think about education – a well-educated population will almost always result in a strong economy (among other valuable outcomes). The stringency should be measured in terms of raw intellectual achievement, not utility. An intelligent and well-educated populace will always find a way forward. Rather than indulging in intellectual cannibalism, perhaps we should be targeting the more obvious examples of waste in public expenditure as some of you have suggested (Trident, bank bailouts, PFI contracts, etc.)

    31. Kenny Campbell says:

      I understand where you are coming from completely as a 44 year old who worked in an Engineering factory for £36 quid a week when I left school at 17 and who didn’t go to Uni and who also attended bloody nightschool.
       
      My issue is that the burden for education has been pushed from employers to government and onto the individuals. Why is that the case…I see corporate profits in the billions…I see corporations avoiding tax via Lux/CH companies.
       
      I have never thought to work out how much tax I’ve paid but I know that I pay a marginal rate of over 50% today if I include NI(I work and live abroad at the moment).
       
      I just don’t see how any of this is relevant to wanting people to be educated. Education should not just be for the rich and like healthcare it should be universal. If its effective then the folks educated will pay for their education via their own taxation, there does not need to be any further complication to getting that money back.

      if people want to pursue a life of academia then that for me is a price society should bear as an investment to betterment either socially or financially, certainly few if any academics themselves end up loaded so they are not in it for the money.
       

    32. Kenny Campbell says:

      Given the almost humanly unimaginable amounts we spunked on saving the banks I just find this whole argument amazing.
       
      If we renamed education National Service everyone would be for it……happy to pay for them to paint coal black but not to learn.

    33. pa_broon says:

      Eh… Yes it is.

      You go out of your way to underline how hard you work while rubbishing the efforts of others, especially those  who don’t ‘understand the value of money’, then as an after thought say how much you care?

      At university entrance age, how many young people do you suppose ‘know the value of money’? That they are studying an engineering degree or one in descriptive dance matters not a jot, very few have in the front of their minds what will make them the most money. In fact, colleges and uni’s go out of their way to skew earning hopes by over selling, although that is another argument.

      I did read your comment and frankly, I don’t really understand it because it is contradictory. If you wonder why people ‘assume’ you don’t care about education and young folk, perhaps you should read what you’ve written. Unless of course you only care about the courses you approve of them doing?

      The point you are trying to make (as it happens) I agree with, but I don’t agree that people like yourself have a monopoly on wealth creation, you’re part of a range of wealth creating enterprises. It is in that paragraph (The point? The point is that…) where the inverted snobbery as I interpret it occurs.

      I totally agree about spending priorities (money would be better spent on caring for our elderly as opposed to providing youngsters who’ve just returned from their gap year a pointless degree in media studies) but, if you in turn read my comment, I posited the notion that this was a problem with piss-poor governance resulting in a lack of job creation & fiscal stimulus, not about educational institutions providing qualification that couldn’t be deployed in the real world.

      I did take on your arguments, I even agreed with some of them. Your premise (as I understood it) was that some degree courses on offer were rubbish and not a priority in terms of spending, I attempted to offer an alternative point of view to that argument by asking why these jobs are not more common and that it wasn’t the fault of the young people but more to do with bad governance.

      I know someone suggesting you might be a bit of an inverted snob could be mildly insulting, but you can’t zero in on it and use it as a wet blanket to cover & hide the pertinent points I made, I mean to say, if you do that: “What’s the point. You can’t engage into a discussion or debate where the other party won’t even take on your arguments.”

      Oh hold on…

    34. Morag says:

      Captain Caveman does have a point.  It’s absolutely ridiculous to aim to send 50% of young people to university.  The motivation seems to be something out of The Gondoliers – but remember the tag line.  “When everyone is somebody, then no-one’s anybody.”  If only 8% of people go to university, then that 8% will correlate fairly well with the higher earning group.  But you are not going to push 50% of the population into that earning bracket just by sending them to a re-named technical college to study a low-grade vocational course.

      It also devalues degrees.  There was a time when having a BSc, even an ordinary, meant something.  It meant the person could think in a certain way, could solve problems, and could be innovative.  Not any more.  People with BScs are now doing the jobs people with ONCs would have been doing 50 years ago, and for the same (relative) salary.

      What we need to look at is how we select the 10% (or whatever) of our young people who are going to university.  Should it be those with the intellectual capacity to make the most of it?  Or should it be those who can pay?

      I think it’s a no-brainer.

    35. pa_broon says:

      Totally agree with that Morag, you can’t have targets for everything.

      With decent governance and a thriving economy and creative arts sector, we can have people doing all sorts of degree courses, even the most frivolous degree course would offer some prospects in terms of economic activity (as in a job) on completion.

      I think the problem with education in general is you can’t conflate ability with entitlement, there has to be some disjoint. They shouldn’t be ‘aiming’ to get any random percentage of people into uni or further education, it should be worked out on merit alone, if it turns out to be 50% after all then fair-do’s, but if its 10% then that’s also fine.

      Also agree with the devaluation of degrees, but that isn’t only necessarily down to there being too much choice. That’s down to competition driving down wages and conditions, I did an ONC in Electronic engineering in the early 90’s and was promised earning potentials of £12k pa, my first job paid £3.5k and it wasn’t even YTS or an apprenticeship. In terms of practical degrees (like engineering and maths etc) the money isn’t crap because you can also get a degree in wine tasting, its crap because the demand (jobs) is low and the supply is high (graduates.)

      I think the problems started when I first went to college way back when (1990,) I remember a lecturer commenting off-handedly about packing them (students) high to get the cash from government, they didn’t care that most of the class would never pass, they just saw us as units that they got money for trying to teach.

      Not sure how you can get away with turning capable young people away from subjects because there aren’t the jobs at the end…

      We’re back to crap governance.

    36. Captain Caveman says:

      You go out of your way to underline how hard you work while rubbishing the efforts of others, especially those  who don’t ‘understand the value of money’, then as an after thought say how much you care?

      That’s pretty much a parody of what I said; I was merely trying to say that it isn’t true to say that the only people who question whether unlimited numbers of degrees, on any subject (or merit) should be offered free of charge to all (on the back of massively watered down A-Levels at that), all had free-of-charge, grant-assisted degrees. And I (foolishly) offered my own case as an example, with my reasons – only to be accused of inverted snobbery?

      Basically, if you have a degree, you’re a hypocrite, but if not, you’re an inverted snob… Can’t you accept that there are perfectly reasonable people out there who question this Utopian nonsense from a purely pragmatic, earnest point of view, not some unpleasant prejudice or other?

      “At university entrance age, how many young people do you suppose ‘know the value of money’?”

      Not many, I’d wager – especially these days. But I’m talking about ALL stakeholders here of course (not least those who are having to pay, including those who did not benefit from such an education, due to lack of academic ability, circumstances or whatever), not just the kids themselves.

      Also, has no-one stopped to think whether actually, is sending 50% of all school leavers off to do degrees – including a large proportion that demonstrably will do very little, if anything, to help them get a job at the end of it, when they could’ve been learning something of far more practical value to them and possibly earning money in the process – actually the best thing in THEIR interests, as well as those expected to (disproportionately) pay their way? Personally, I am certain it isn’t; the median ability kids (like I was) should be doing apprenticeships and the like, just like they always used to. That way the majority of them will be able to lead productive, profitable lives – instead of ending up in call centres if they’re lucky.

       

    37. Captain Caveman says:

      But of course, you say that you agree with me anyway, so it seems to me that the points you make are no more than criticisms of me personally, and more importantly, moot.

    38. douglas clark says:

      I would like Captain Caveman’s comments on my post at 9:30pm.
      I am neither a successful businessman, nor a graduate. It seems to me that Captain Caveman has the right of it about effort. No-one succeeds without that. But a diminishingly few of us succeed without a qualification these days. And I am not  interested in short-termism. We watch the markets rise and fall, and just get on with it. What we do get on with, largely though boom and bust, is more interesting, about us, than the how of us getting on with it.
      I am very interested in things like psychology and astronomy. I get a square meal on my table, and in a Maslowian sense, my basic needs are met. I want us to spend money on making our intellectual and physical world a better place. I am a tad astonished at the long term planning that envelopes major science projects. It is the exact opposite of the short termism of banking and it’s cohorts. I have little knowledge about the funding arrangements for Scottish University’s but it seems to me that endowment by rich folk for the future of the planet is the way forward. A la Bill Gates and that sage guy.
      Just saying.
       
       
       



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