University Education is not a right, tertiary education is a responsibility of the individual, first and foremost. The fact that the state gives funding is the exception down human history. Take a look at Cambridge University, which is celebrating its 800th year of formation. This is a university which has produced more Nobel prize winners than any other university in the world. Check out the history per se. By and large, the university has been founded and funded by private citizens who are doing their philanthropic duty. But Cambridge and Oxford, here in the UK, are now the exception rather than the rule.
For some reason, it is now accepted that governments should totally fund tertiary education, tuition fees should be abolished and it should be a free ride. Not at all. That is not the case. Sure, you can get project and research funding from the Government to study societal topics and such, but to expect a fully open purse? Not at all.
Specially when the economy turns down, then public funding has to be squeezed as well. So when the Leader of British Opposition says that student numbers will drop, then it simply makes sense. After all, Tony Blair's target of 50% of all students in full time tertiary education simply is not backed by facts and figures. There is no reason to believe that that figure is right for a society. Why not 40% or why not 70%?
Take another issue, the drop out rate. Professor Ebdon, who complained about the fact that Cameron was forcing students not to take up education presides over a University whose drop out rate is higher than the benchmark of 12.4%. Curiously, not a word on that, so I would have guessed that the good professor would have spent more time on getting more of his students through the University rather than asking for more people to be shoved into the system.
Furthermore, this idea of social engineering being pushed by the current government is dangerous. More you try to push more people into university education, without any attempt to handle the basic issues, means that more people drop off. At some places, the drop off rate is a gobsmacking 40%. Lack of job opportunities, lack of good teachers, concentration on foreign students, lack of funding all means that universities have to shrink to provide good quality education to a smaller group of students rather than provide mediocre or poor quality education to a vast unwashed herd of students who will either drop off or graduate with degrees which are frankly useless. I quote:
.....graduates in arts and humanities subjects, such as history, art, French or English literature, had among the lowest earnings.
Or see this graphic from the Economist
Numbers are a bit old, but I dont believe it has changed that much, or even if they have changed, the downturn would have impacted the earnings significantly now. Those gender differences are startling, no? but they are not part of this blogpost so will pick that up sometime later.
So yes, when you have financial constraints, you need to cut back and increase quality. Cambridge did not get to 800 years of age and of the highest quality by being mediocre, it was so because it was brilliant, kept itself small, enforced quality and did not rely on government funding. Lessons to be learnt, I guess.