Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The professors in their colleges trying to feed me knowledge that I know I'll never use.

Raising my blood pressure today is the report in the Times Higher that the new fee structures will deter students from poorer backgrounds from going to university.  This is according to Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust.  As this is a charity which supports social mobility through education, it's no big shocker that this is their viewpoint.

However, it's an argument I am sick to death of hearing.

Higher education wasn't always free.  People forget this.  I am not an economist, but it doesn't seem to be a huge stretch to work out that more people in higher education (as espoused by Tony Bliar) = more strain on the government's coffers.  The money tree turned out to be mythological, and so someone has to stump up for it.  And so it would make sense to me that it would be the person who is most likely to benefit financially and socially.  This would be the student themselves.

Now as the money isn't paid up front (as is the case in other countries), I genuinely do not see the problem.  I see it that the only ones who would be put off are the ones (and c'mon, we all know people like this) who see their uni years as the time to doss about, get pissed, and do the bare minimum in order to scrape a pass.  But if they know they'll be paying off £30k approx, then perhaps, just perhaps, they might knuckle down and do some work.

The ones who are put off - fair enough.  Get a job.  Contribute to society that way.  In all honesty I believe that too much emphasis has been placed on EVERYONE going to university, and the result is a society even more divided.  You have your 'low-achievers' (academically speaking) who will thrive in the world of work.  But because they are told (from fairly early on) that they're not part of the 50% who are 'bright' enough for higher education, they feel stupid and maligned, and ultimately resentful.

We have now created a culture where vocational training is seen as the domain of the 'thickies'.  Not bloody so.  If I were to have children (not happening, so this is hypothetical), I would likely encourage them to train as plumbers / electricians, rather than doing media studies or some such (I myself was a cultural studies student, before anyone starts screaming at me).  At least that way I'd have someone around with useful life skills (I'm bitter that when anything breaks in my house I can only phone my white-collar worker parents or my writer brother.  None of whom know their way around a toolbox and merely offer a phone number of a man who can).

What's wrong with a meritocracy, really?  The brightest go to university?  Great.  The brightest kids from deprived backgrounds get financial help from scholarship funds / charitable associations?  Brilliant.

What truly scares me is the society I see forming.  The one composed of 50% graduates, and 50% working class people who resent the students and don't see that they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in society.  It's a pride in being an 'underclass', a lack of aspiration to be the best that you can be.

Also worrying me is this report which reinforces the idea of the north/south divide.  I would say that something really needs to be done to tackle the 'can't-be-arsed' attitude which pervades the northernlands.  There's a real air of, well, *sigh* (that's the only way I've found to sum up the part of the country I'm from).  There's no passion or drive.  People just can't be bothered to try.  It's becoming ingrained in each subsequent generation, and now the 'ave a babby n'gerra council 'ouse mentality is becoming the dominant one.  Before anyone shouts that this is my privilege talking, let me assure you that it isn't an economic one (although I won't argue that my family did perhaps provide more encouragement to have aspirations than some of my classmates' families did), permit me to take you back just one generation removed from where I now sit in 2011 affluent England, to the early 20th century, The North:

My grandfather was born into extremely low working-class conditions in the 1920s.  If, by an accident of birth, he had been born into the middle classes, he would have become a lawyer or a doctor.  As such, he did what he could with the cards life dealt him, working 'darn t'pit', taking exams to become foreman, then a medic.  After a spell as a councillor, he became a magistrate.  The pride he had in his achievements was a wonderful thing.  He wasn't bitter, he worked as hard as he could, grasped the opportunities which came his way, with a positive attitude and a quiet dignity which humbles me.  He encouraged the subsequent generations of his family to aspire to do the very best they could, and was extremely proud when my brother, and later myself, managed to go to university.  However, I do not see my achievements as superior to my grandad's because I have a university degree and he did not.  He achieved upwards social mobility through hard graft, and that is what people now seem to lack the inclination to do.  In his lifetime he shifted from lower working-class to a middle-class (outright) homeowner.  He was an inspiration to me, and having a role model like him is the reason that society in general fucks me off so royally today (sorry for the bad language, grandad).

So in essence, I think that what I'm saying is that social mobility is possible and that it doesn't necessarily require a university education.  If you want something badly enough, you can make it happen.  Just don't expect it for free.

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