Lines in the sand


An article on the BBC’s website entitled ‘UK slipping down graduate league’ attracted my attention. Interesting, I thought, this must be an evaluation of how the quality of students popping out of British universities has slipped below that of other countries. Not the case. Instead, the article read like a fistful Blairite nonsense about the knowledge economy, and how we need more people in universities in order to compete with the rising economies of China and India. You get the idea.

The article suggests that politicians may need to suck us for more taxes to raise the number of young people going to university to upwards of 60 percent. No thanks. As I was wisely told when I was a kid: “just because everyone else is doing it, that doesn’t mean you have to". Countries competing in graduates to improve their economies remind me of synchronized swimmers at the Olympics: a lot of splashing, looks pretty, but not much result. A lesson can be learned from Eastern Europe. When working in a bar to pay for my own questionable education, a fair number of the ubiquitous Polish waitresses had been educated ad infinatum, persuaded by massive state subsidies. Little good it did them. There were no jobs in Poland. Their universities did not deliver a growing, competitive economy.

The solution to all this is simple, but frankly beyond the stomach of most politicians. Free universities from the state, and in so doing allow the market to decide the price for education. If it is value for their time and money, the student will choose to go to university. We don't an aribitrary target, be it 50 percent, or 60 percent, or whatever. The economy is far more dynamic and flexible than that.

What about the poor? Well, the poor are not stupid. And if they are, they really should not be thinking about going to university. Thus, if it is worth their time and money, they can borrow the money to invest in their future. If people don’t go to university they can do an apprenticeship, start a business or get a job. All potential paths to personal wealth that will also benefit the economy. Simple.