Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Price Of Engineering

That degree in Disco Studies may yet come in useful

NuLab has hugely increased state spending on education. This year they will spend well over £80bn, comfortably more than double what they inherited in 1997. In inflation adjusted terms, spending has increased by 5% pa, much faster than GDP. And state education's share of GDP has risen by nearly one full percentage point.

In fact, at 5.3% of GDP, we are now spending more on state education than any other G7 country except France (on 5.6%).

So what have we got for all that money?

Have we had the promised leap in education standards, and can we now see that bright new workforce equipped to triumph in the post-industrial hi-tech challenges of the 21st Century?

Er, no. We've had record GCSE results, record A Level results, and record numbers of university graduates, but we haven't had any of that other stuff - the stuff we actually need. We are spending tens of billions extra every year, yet the results are no better.

In fact, so ill-equipped is the bright new workforce now pouring out of our state schools and universities, that the government is having to pay employers to take them on, even temporarily.

Last week, we heard taxpayers' money was being used to bribe employers to take on 35,000 unemployed school leavers as "apprentices" (see this blog). And today we hear another bunch of employers are being bribed to offer an unspecified number of "internships"* to unemployed university grads. Skills Secretary John Denham (most assuredly no relation to The Bloke) explains:

"They [new graduates] will be a very big group: around 400,000. We can’t just leave people to fend for themselves. At the end they will be more employable, and some of them will get jobs."
Wow! Some of them might even get jobs?

And pray explain again why we've got 400,000 graduates - graduates who are so ill-equipped for life that they can't even be left to fend for themselves. Remembering of course, that when Labour came to power, our unis were only producing 200,000 grads per year.

Yes, we know there's a recession/slump on, but the problems with all these new grads go much deeper than that. As we've blogged many times (start here), both the nation and the students themselves have had shocking value from Labour's gung-ho expansion of "higher" education and its entirely arbitrary 50% participation target. A brief recap:
  • Taxpayers now spend £12bn pa on higher education; the students themselves spend a whole lot more
  • There are 2.3m students, or 4% of the entire population (including 27,000 doing the Major's favourite, the degree in media studies)
  • The 50% participation target is "aspirational" - ie entirely arbitrary (admitted to the PAC by the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England - see this blog)
  • The average HE participation rate across the OECD is 35%: ours is already 40% and heading for 50%
  • Thousands of graduates now do non-graduate jobs, and that number is growing rapidly- their M Mouse degrees have simply not equipped them to do anything else (according to HESA, 75% - yes, 75% - of 2002-3 graduates were still in non-graduate jobs four years after graduation; what's more, 26% weren't in full-time jobs of any kind
  • The average financial return to a degree is plummeting - according to PWC, the gross return to an Arts degree is now only about £30 grand, and that takes no account of the costs of study and the earnings foregone - net net an average Arts degree almost certainly reduces lifetime wealth.

The truth is that despite all their "challenges of the globalised economy" wibble, Labour have never seen education in economic terms. From comprehensivisation to Laura Spence, Labour's priority has always been social engineering. For them, it has always been far more important to put everyone on the same level, than to pursue educational excellence.

So let's thank God for private education. Because without it, Britain really would be in the merde. All our top jobs would have to be filled by people who'd been processed through our dumbed-down state social engineering factories.

Yes, Brown's new Equality Commissar - Haze of Dope Milburn - is perfectly free to rant on about the unfair advantages private education brings on the employment front. But we all know the truth: the reason that social mobility has stalled so badly is that Labour politicians sacrificed state education on the altar of social engineering.

And unfortunately, as the slump gathers pace, the dismal results of their approach are going to be even more apparent. People who may have been employable in a credit boom are going to find it very tough in the harsh future now unfolding before us.

As someone whose life chances were transformed by high quality state education, it really does make me want to scream.

*Footnote- So HTF has our deadend government persuaded sensible companies like Microsoft and Barclays to offer these internships? Well, first - as per - it sounds like classic vapourware and probably won't happen. "A spokeswoman for Microsoft said the company in principle “absolutely supports” the idea and had been “really enthusiastic” when the government approached it. Asked what the scheme involved, she said: “We have to sit down and go through the scheme in detail." Hmm. And second, Microsoft... major government supplier... needs to be seen as A Good Citizen in these troubled times... Barclays... big bank with big debts... needs to be seen as A Good Citizen in these troubled times... nope, I don't get it at all.

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