Twenty-first century study has been a story of unfair treatment and accountancy tricksby Michael Forsyth / June 26, 2018 / Leave a comment
The proportion of young people entering higher education has increased from 40 per cent to 50 per cent during the 21st century. This growth has come almost entirely from more students enrolling onto full-time undergraduate degree programmes at universities. Has this been in the best interests of students? And given this expansion has been funded in large part through an accounting trick by the government, more of which later, has the cost been in the best interests of taxpayers?
The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which I chair, has just concluded a year-long inquiry addressing these questions and was unanimous in the conclusions of its report, “Treating Students Fairly: The Economics of Post-School Education.”
Higher education should not just be about spending three years at university studying for a degree. There are thousands of technical and vocational qualifications which can be studied in higher education institutions and further education colleges, either full-time, part-time or as part of an apprenticeship.
The evidence we heard suggested that there is a paradox in the labour market: there are shortages of workers with technical qualifications but there are lots of graduates doing jobs in which their learning has no application. For these people, a technical or vocational qualification, relevant to the workplace, may have helped them secure a more satisfying job and left them saddled with less student debt.
Demand for these other options in higher education is low: the qualifications are perceived as inferior by students and parents; schools are incentivised to push students towards sixth form and university, where the proportion of first class degrees bei…