The cost of education

Higher education in Britain has changed radically since I were a lad. Just so you know, in 1961 I went ‘up’ for four years, with the promise of free tuition and two contributions towards my annual living costs; they were a £100 ‘state scholarship’, awarded for A-level results and a £70 college scholarship, awarded after exams at the college. Total: £170 p.a., equivalent to £3,500 today. In case you’re wondering, my parents ‘kept’ me in the vacations – which amounted to more than half the year; and I did vac. jobs too. (I did not of course have a laptop/smart phone/ipad to pay for!)

Obviously today’s university students face a different future financially. On average they borrow £50,000 by the time they graduate and no doubt many, if not most, supplement their loans by working. So it is understandable that Corbyn can promise a brave new world of gubmint support for students and gain their approval. But the utopia I enjoyed will not return.

Author: janus

I'm back......and front - in sunny Sussex-by-the-sea

35 thoughts on “The cost of education”

  1. Yes, well… Back then not many actually had the chance to receive a university education. This was broadly understood. In the years after the war ended working class and lower-middle class people could, for the first time, hope to receive a university education. A few managed, most sought employment through different paths. The value of a university education has been cheapened. Holding a degree no longer means that much. Fifty years ago hold any degree was an accomplishment as few managed to do so. Now, the drover’s dog’s fourth cousin, twice removed has one. My generation were pressured into taking on that debt, into spending those years at university. Most were not truly up to the task and would have been better served through technical education. Someone with a £50,000 university bill can, with some effort, find a job that pays £17,000-£20,000 that didn’t strictly require it. I can provide more detail upon request.

  2. I cannot remember the exact figures but was it not about 7% went to university then? Now it is nearer 50% Of course the govt can’t afford to pay!
    It is a great pity that colleges that taught work related courses and awarded vocational diplomas were ever turned into universities.
    It now appears that one has to have a PhD to get a half way decent job and that in a serious subject, too many underwater basket weaving degrees!
    One often meets people with so called degrees that have the IQ and understanding of an ant. I would just about have employed them as a cleaner!
    Corbyn is a lying toad to try to blandish the young with his ‘jam tomorrow’ claptrap. They are equally deluded in believing it.

  3. CO: There are two main reasons why so many have degrees in underwater basket weaving. The first is that from a young age people are pressured to go to universities. They’re told that there are no other viable options. Someone who would have made a perfectly good cook, mechanic or plumber instead holds a joint degree in Solomon Island bead-work and Papua New Guinea German with all the relevant employment prospects that entails. The reason? Without having much clue as to what to do, eccentric interests are encouraged. No one told them that they could have just trained as a cook, mechanic or plumber and spared themselves levels of debt quite that high.

    The second reason is the most cynical. There are a good many dysfunctional pseudo-intellectuals who need to justify their sinecures. They lack the critical thought needed to clean out sheep stalls, but they can prattle on at length about trans-theory and banana slugs. If young people ever insisted on, by and large, being sensible and pursuing careers to which they’d be best suited the lot would find itself out of work and with few prospects. Ruining a generation is a small price to pay for a comfortable income and generous pension.

  4. And what is utterly ridiculous is that those who are good mechanics, cooks and plumbers, especially if they start their own companies ,are always the most successful and well heeled by the end of it!
    Plus can call their soul their own.

    When I had the Post Office in Wales as part of a heritage lease I was quite accustomed to illiterate farmers excusing themselves from writing cheques for bills, (Haven’t bought my glasses being the stock excuse).
    I would write the cheque, they would sign their name.
    Needless to say this did not preclude them from keeping a six figure balance in their current accounts, “Just in case they saw ‘something interesting’ at auction! Most had bunked off school permanently by the age of 12!
    But just try gypping them out of a brass ha’penny.

    One guy I know well had his own contracting company by the age of 14, today he is 50 or so and is a millionaire with a 350 acre farm, bought and paid for and a very successful fencing company, but started with nothing. His mother borrowed the money from the bank to buy his first tractor.
    One of the few that can read and write actually.
    Needless to say, such success need extremely hard work, not something most of the snowflake generation are willing to do.

    What price a poxy degree, and a 50,000 debt? Forget it.

  5. CO: I find it hard to be quite as disgusted with the current lot of youth. I have to endure them by the hundreds each term. Many come from broken families. They had no real role models and little true guidance. Others were coddled by parents who cared more about their “self-esteem” than in raising children. Not the children’s “self-esteem”, of course, but their own. Their fragile egos couldn’t quite stomach the inevitable parent-child strife. Each generation is essentially the same. They are a product of their times and upbringing. Until people reach their mid-20s parents have to bear most of the responsibility for how people behave. It takes several years of “adulthood” to truly form a mind of one’s own. Before that, it’s a combination of adolescent angst and nurture. Children who were raised to work, who were taught that they are not special and that they had no right to feel entitled to anything generally turn out okay.

    Having been born in the mid-’80s, my group has had its classification changed several times. I was originally Gen-Y, now I’m apparently a “Millennial”. It doesn’t really matter. What I do know is that mine is the first generation that will be worse off than the previous generation for a long time. We face higher living costs, especially in terms of housing, but because of the economic collapse and a stagnant recovery we earn far less than our parents did.

  6. Well, had you saved all the money you spend jaunting around the world, you would own a house by now. Could have rented it out and derived an income to cover it with profit.
    Your choice, so many of your generation spend money like a Dutchman with no arms, we made do and mended, lived with second hand everything to make sure mortgages could be paid for even when we still had bank loans from University.
    Everyone makes their own choices, no good bitching about it subsequently.
    About the only thing we wasted money on was going down the pub! (Far too often!)

  7. CO: Different priorities. We couldn’t afford a house, anyway. Nor do we generally care. We settle for smaller flats. We have more minimal furnishings. We drive smaller, more sensible cars. Our parents — the children of the ’60s and ’70s — are very often greedy and materialistic. I’m extremely adept at holidaying on a sensible budget. I gave up driving and cut back on many luxuries to afford it. I’m still more fiscally capable than most my parents’ age.

  8. Funnily enough today I was talking to a neighbour about almost this very thing. We are of an age (children of the early 40’s). Neither of us went to university, very few people did in those days. At the age that the young now leave university 21 – 22 (?) we had been at work for five or so years so I suppose that in some ways we were more adult. At one stage I could have gone to London Poly or UWIST and read for a BSc in Nautical Science (whatever that is ?) but the mere thought of going on a four year course was too much.

    My advice to the young would be to get out of school at the earliest opportunity and start making their way. Go to university only if you have a burning interest in something, otherwise steer well clear.

  9. Have a look at this video. Elizabeth Warren bewails the impoverished state of the modern American family over the past 40 years (the video was made 10 years ago) which she appears to put down to 2 things. 1) Increased credit card debt, and 2) very interestingly the fact that since the early 70s, the rise in the number of women going to work, has risen dramatically. It is counter intuitive, but this has led to greater household debt.

    What she does not mention, is that at the start of the period she is discussing, Nixon abandoned the gold standard and this led to a rapid increase in money supply and massive inflation, relatively speaking.

    Anyway it is worth watching if only to see how things have changed for different generations.

  10. Janus: OK I’ll change ihange My advice to the young would be to get out of school at the earliest opportunity and start making their way. Go to university only if you are bright enough and have a burning interest in something, otherwise steer well clear.

  11. Trouble is these days, too many educational experiences are insufficiently competitive. Add grade inflation and the ‘everyone’s a winner syndrome’ and so many think they are bright when they are pitifully average.
    Totally self delusional.
    These are the kids that end up with the crap degrees in non event subjects, huge debts and jobs that have no hope of repayment of the loans incurred.

  12. CO: I have been instructed by one professor to not give marks based on content. So long as they “technically” met assignment requirements I am not to give them 100pc. Semi-literate, unintelligible rants get perfect marks so long as they are long enough.

  13. CO: I have also been advised to “relax” my standards and just give marks for “effort”, not for actual quality. People turn in essays that are so poorly written that they make EE Cummings look like a veritable pedant. There are scores of essays without an original thought — just regurgitated slogans and vapid clichés. They deserve to fail. Everyone knows they deserve to fail. Yet, they get high marks simply because they wrote a few paragraphs that *kind of* made sense, sometimes.

  14. Janus: The cost of education here has skyrocketed. Even gubmint-run universities have been forced to put their fees up. I’m unaware, though, of any corresponding huge pay increases being given to instructors. Private institutions have become increasingly more aggressive in soliciting donations from former students, who they must think are now rolling in money. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t receive a “begging letter” from my own alma mater. Things seem to be a bit easier for those schools who have good sports teams, as their alumni are generally inclined to be generous so long as “their” team is winning. It’s appalling that the coach of such a team can be paid considerably more than the average professor, but then I guess that’s the cost of keeping those fat contributions coming in.

    Back in my day (harrumph!), the price of everything was lower but the cost of attending a “big name” university still painfully steep in relative terms. I got through by virtue of winning (via competitive exam) a substantial (although not full) scholarship, plus taking all sorts of summer jobs. Hmm… by now, my membership in the bakers’ union has long since lapsed.

    My dear wifeperson reminded me (as she often does of many things) of the issue of defaulting on student loans. Too many young people seem to see non-repayment as an easy way out, only to have it come back to bite them once they have come up in the world sufficiently to want to obtain a mortgage or to apply for a job that requires a thorough background check.

    CT: Granted that attempting to teach today’s young is your bread and butter, I’m well and truly shocked that relaxation of standards has become so institutionalized. My condolences to you for having to put up with such a situation.

    None of the academic types I know here has ever mentioned being under any instructions or pressure not to grade students’ work according to its merit. That is not to say that their respective institutions’ admissions departments have made their job any easier. One is supposed to teach writing at a major university, “supposed to” because “it would be nice if the (expletive deleted) kids could speak proper English first.” Another, the Mad Chemist, gets by only by hiding in the lab (no doubt working on an undetectable poison gas) and avoiding contact with students as much as possible.

    Bellingham, a smaller city (pop. ~84,000) near us, has not one but two (2) “Technical Colleges” that award “Associates” (two-year) degrees, with an emphasis on practical subjects (Bolt Torquing 101?). To my mind, they serve a valuable purpose by not only giving students some (hopefully) real survival skills but also at least exposing them to possible broader use of their brains. “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.” Even the university I attended emphasized breadth of education, seeing their mission to be producing “the whole man.” (Presumably they’ve now modified that declaration to include females and, erm, “others.”) Only after getting through the humanities-laden first two years could one properly come to grips with anything resembling a technical subject.

    And so, here I are.

  15. Cog, thanks for that. Begging is now a key activity at my alma mater too – and clearly it works, if the scale and cost of the department can be justified (rough calculation: postage at regular intervals to c. 7,500 targets worldwide!). That’s one college – not the whole university.

  16. Janus: What did you study and where ? You have probably told us already but I must have missed it.

  17. Cog: Few will admit to it as that would cause issues with accreditation agencies. Moreover, it would taint the reputation of tertiary education institutions. Were I not have a degree of anonymity here I wouldn’t dare say things this openly. At many universities top marks are reserved for solid work, but Bs of various shades are readily handed out to keep entitled students at bay. Administrators are infamous for overruling professors who assign marks based strictly on merit. Yoof quickly learn that a trip to the right office and a sympathetic apparatchik is all that’s needed to secure an easy go.

    This pressure is growing increasingly insidious as colleges and universities are relying more and more on international students to bolster their enrolment. These students are nowhere near capable or ready, at least in terms of language comprehension, to sit many courses. This doesn’t matter. Apparatchiks want seats filled and astronomical student fees to fall in their laps like manna from heaven.

    I probably won’t leave academia entirely for some time. There’s much that I enjoy about it and the handful of good students make me want to kill myself a little bit less. However, in the next few months I will go into private industry for my bread-and-butter. My academic sinecure can pay for the ham and cheese.

  18. Jazz, Brasenose College, Oxford; Greek and Latin literature, ancient history and philosophy. Don’t hold it against me though. 😉

  19. Janus: A bit off topic, but… Are there any works of Roman literature of which you’re especially fond? Would you be so king as to recommend any decent books on Roman history?

  20. CT, I used to admire the works of Cicero, the orator; elegant and full of memorable images. As for readable accounts, good old Robert Graves’ stories about Claudius provide a marvellous tapestry of the early Empire. There are of course many f”ing useless (copyright Jazz) academic accounts too which can be accessed via Google with a chosen topic or two.

  21. CT: My academic friends here would most certainly admit it – and complain bitterly about it – privately to me if they were under any pressure or compulsion to over-grade students’ work.

    Your mention of international students raises the question of which group has the most money to throw around in the West these days and, consequently, might be most successfully approached for donations once their little darling has his/her degree safely framed on the wall. Right, got it in one! Unfortunately, not all those Oriental little darlings are as bright as their parents would like to think they are. They’re not necessarily honest either. My wife’s late son found that, erm, a certain group of individuals were “raiding” computers in the department at night for anything they could use in their own work. He addressed the situation by moving all his real work to a portable drive at the end of each day, leaving behind only junk material that, if any attempt were made to use it, would set the raiders’ work back years.

    Janus: If one College in Inspector Morse land is willing to dedicate personnel, postage budget, etc., to solicitation of contributions, then I’d consider it a safe bet that all/most/many (delete as applicable) of the others also do so. This makes it seem a great pity that Oxford is organized the way it is, as it would be far more efficient to establish a central “begging office” serving all the Colleges, perhaps setting up a third party company for the purpose in order to keep their own hands clean. Or is that thinking too big business-like (acquire, consolidate, subcontract, declare redundancies, liquidate assets (strips of “quads” could be sold off, leaving “rects”), etc.?

  22. Cog, akshully all the colleges are at it. Why? Because allegiance is to the college itself, not the University, providing an emotional link capable of ‘development’. Remember business in Morseland is an academic pursuit, f”ing useless. 🙂

  23. Cog: Don’t think they’re necessarily all from East Asia. A tremendous amount are from the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia. For the Chinese it doesn’t matter so much if their children are as bright as a 15 watt light bulb in its death rattles. So long as they have a foreign university degree, especially one from a prestigious university, they’re happy. I know one Chinese bloke who wanted to transfer to another university. His parents put him under an almighty pressure to stay. They relented when I informed them that the university he wished to attend was in the top-20 globally. I also told them that the only thing that counted was his end degree. This was one is actually incredibly bright, even though he lacks the common sense the good lord promised a beetroot.

    China has a long tradition of copying. For thousands of years their education system focuses on learning everything by rote and discouraging academic creativity. The Chinese had their great inventions, artists, poets and writers — but their intellectual tradition is fairly limited. The Japanese did far more in this respect.

  24. Cor blimey christopher, don’t you go round having an ‘ism denigrating beetroot!
    they are probably jewish and janus will throw another conniption. And hurl epithets of vegism.
    Totters off stage left wringing hands.

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