This is a tricky one and has clearly stirred up a fair amount of anger.
However, it is not a black and white argument and I think there are wider ramifications than simply not paying for people to go to university.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while and trying to work out what’s important and what’s not but a recent headline has brought it to a head for me. The headline in question is KPMG to pay school leavers’ tuition fees and you can find it on www.hrmagazine.co.uk.
Here’s what I think the problem is:
Some time ago the government decided to make university education available to a much broader range of students, rather than just the academically gifted. This has had some wide ranging ramifications, such as the introduction of ridiculous courses, such as David Beckham Studies, to cater for those students who don’t want, shall we say, traditional avenues of study.
There has also been a glut of university graduates on the market, leading to difficulties for graduates finding work and, now we’ve run out of money, the fact that funding has to be cut because we just can’t afford this many university places.
Compare this to the past. University was for the academically gifted and there were other avenues for those who were more practical, such as technical college, where my dad went, or, indeed, work placements or day release of FE Colleges and so on.
Because there were fewer graduates, it meant that businesses competed with each other to attract them to fast-track schemes, paid them higher starting wages and generally continued their education. This in terms of supply and demand meant it was difficult to get to uni and, therefore, it was more valuable to students… they tried harder to get there.
Now, it seems we are coming full cycle. The glut of students is going to come to an end and firms are going to have to compete for the best… hence KPMG paying tuition fees.
But this has ramifications for EB. How many of us can afford to do that? Whereas, in the recent past we have had access to university educated employees without the need to pay a premium. This situation could well end, meaning that EB suffers.
Or could simply mean that we get access to that talent before it goes to university?
You see what I mean?
There’s more thinking to be done here and, as yet, I’m undecided on whether cutting university funding is good or bad.
One thing is certain though. If the number of places are reduced, they have to be replaced with something else and perhaps that something is more appropriate, such as real apprenticeships. In this case, EB is well place, once again, the be the engine room of talent nurturing, because we are well placed to help school leavers become economic contributors very quickly.
Answers on a postcard please.