Wednesday, April 17, 2024
HomeNewsMark Ellse: The expansion of higher education has proved an expensive flop

Mark Ellse: The expansion of higher education has proved an expensive flop


Oh what a mess education is in. Where does one begin to sort out what to do? A recent panic, initiated by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is over graduate employment. Apparently Britain’s failure to create sufficient high-skilled jobs for its rising proportion of graduates means the money invested in education is being squandered, while young people are left crippled by student debts.

Those of us with realistic views of what education can or cannot do were shouted down when we expressed reservations about the expansion of higher education. The edumaniacs pointed out that countries with increased participation in higher education were economically more prosperous. “If we send more to university we will become more prosperous,” was the cry. And probably “more equal” was the thought. Sadly this seems not to have been the case.

The problem is that increased participation in higher education is a consequence of prosperity, not a cause. Societies that have loads of money sloshing around can waste it in a number of ways, one of which is to encourage greater and greater proportions of young people to be supported by society, whether in staying on at school until far too late, or taking mindless degree courses.

The result is plainly observable. McDonald’s et al are staffed with far too many media studies graduates and, since everyone has a bachelor’s degree, those professions which require proper graduates sort out which candidates they are going to select from by requiring a master’s degree as a minimum qualification.

How much does this help our economy? Not at all, of course. As the CIPD, an organisation which has “Personal Development” as its aim, says with clarity about graduates “…these individuals are no more or less productive in such jobs than their mothers or fathers.” Those of us with more realistic views might say that things are actually worse.

The problem with the young is that in those vital years from mid teens to mid twenties they drift through a “child centred” educational system that contains every politically correct element known to man (and woman). They come out of education expecting to be served instead of to serve. When they enter the world of work, some never recover from the trauma of, for the first time in their lives, being told what to do and expected to do it.

My father, reared in poverty by a single parent in the 1930s, left school at 14 to be an apprentice carpenter. Volunteering for the RAF he spent the war maintaining Mosquitos and fighting in Burma, leaving with his sergeant’s stripes. After a six-month teacher training course he was in school teaching certificate maths to secondary children. He ended up as a respected primary school headmaster. So much for today’s long-winded education.

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Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse is a physicist and author. He is a former headmaster, independent school inspector and A level chief examiner.

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