Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, has written this article in the Times. Take a minute to read it, it’s not behind a paywall. In it, he basically describes how higher education is a nationalised industry that needs to be privatised to increase efficiency, and that anyone who doesn’t feel ecstatic about stumping up £21,000 for a three year degree doesn’t deserve to be at university.
The first point that needs to be made about the so-called deterrent effect of a £21,000 loan is that anyone put off from attending a good university by fear of that debt doesn’t deserve to be at any university in the first place. Incurring such a relatively small debt to pay for the huge economic benefit conferred by proper higher education is a fantastic deal. Over a lifetime, the direct financial benefit in higher earnings is around £400,000.
First of all, I want to see his numbers. £400,000 over 40 years is 10 grand a year, not bad but hardly enormous. His £21,000 a year figure doesn’t include 4 year courses like modern languages, and it doesn’t include living costs – some £4,000 a year, so we’re looking at more like £40,000 to do a 3 year course. And that doesn’t include the interest that builds up the longer you take to pay it off, and I daresay it doesn’t include the tax taken off from the higher earnings. Remember too that you’re also taking 3 years out of the job market, which used to be the justification for the grant. Not anymore. And the money that he says you’ll be getting back isn’t guaranteed at all, so it’s not as if you’re exchanging £21,000 for £400,000. Suddenly this bargain basement looks more like a snake oil salesman.
I want to see the controls he used, because it’s not necessarily the case that university is the cause of this higher figure. If I study English Literature at uni and then go on to make a fortune selling cars, how much of my earnings can be attributed to the higher education system? It might be nothing to do with it, or it could be because I’ve built up contacts at uni (which doesn’t cost the uni anything), or it could be because of some transferable skill that I learned there (in which case it’s only partly down to higher education).
But all that’s irrelevant, he says that people put off by the uni debt don’t deserve to be at uni. Whether he likes it or not and whether it’s justified or not, people from poorer backgrounds are put off by the debt, moreso than rich people, whether or not they ‘deserve’ to go to university. If he thinks there are too many people going to university then that’s a defensible position, but it is not acceptable to reduce the number of university-goers by using willingness to accrue debt as a proxy for merit. That is absurdity of the highest order.
But that’s not all, he actually looks up to the American system as though it’s something to aspire to! Does he not know that for many people in America it is simply not an option to go to college because they just can’t afford it? People have to save up for decades in order to send their kids to college, is that something we want here? I think not. England has the highest tuition fees in Europe, and if the bill goes through today they’ll be the most expensive in the world.
Those of us who are net contributors to the State, graduates or not, are getting a terrible deal for our money. We could guarantee far superior healthcare and schooling for our families if only the Government gave us back the money which it confiscates from us in taxes and then spends on the schools and hospitals which it runs so badly.
Wow, the state ‘confiscates’ money? That’s bordering on Tea Party idiocy there. But it’s nice of him to mention healthcare, that’s just sparked an idea in my head. Hold on, I’m just going to put my Michael Gove hat on for a second. Why does he not argue that people who benefit most from healthcare should have to pay more for it? Undoubtedly people have earned money out of it (since he insists on putting everything in monetary terms), because they don’t earn anything if they die. Why should I subsidise that?
Ahem. I’ll tell you why, because society as a whole benefits from having a universal healthcare system, just as society as a whole benefits from having university graduates. Gove claims that privatising the higher education system will increase efficiency in the higher education sector but I don’t see how. One factor that he seems to be ignoring is that private companies are geared to make profit. It’s only “efficient” if you’re talking about how much money they can make vs how much money it costs. Some things are better paid for when the object is not to make money, things like emergency services, healthcare, education, legal aid, welfare. The privatisation of education will only benefit the rich.
And they have the gall to tell us that these cuts aren’t ideological. For shame.