This question has been raised often by folk that have not gone to university. I’m answering the question because it was put to me directly over twitter by a fisherman.
The argument goes something like “If you want to spend £52 000 on getting a degree, fine but don’t ask me to pay for it as I see no benefit”. However, I suggest that we can’t afford not to support general attendance at university for those who are capable or want to. In my opinion we should be facilitating easy entrance to higher or further education using a variety of modes (distance learning, summer school, traditional degrees, module by modular qualification) so that people can access education throughout their lives in order to develop skills, feed their interests or change career direction.
I’d rather people didn’t have to pay fees at all – apart from the cultural benefits of having a more educated populace, the costs of university attendance are more than recouped by the taxpayer through the generally higher incomes paid folk working in graduate jobs. My arguments for accessible university with entrance based on ability run something like:
- Animals become adult as soon as they become reproductively active – they have all the skills they need at that point. That used also to be true of Homo sapiens and women would have kids as early as 16 – 18, now most women have children at nearer 30 than 20. This is because the world has become more complex and it takes longer to beome stable and financially secure and usually both partners need or want to establish careers. Although there are other routes, for some careers a university degree gives most people a much better chance of achieving stability.
- If the general population can’t get into university on the basis of intellectual ability, rather than ability to pay we will forever be governed by fatuous privileged turds like Gove, Johnson and Reese-Mogg who can afford the best education.
- The UK is a rich nation and will prosper by developing/nurturing high-tech industries (which require graduates). We can’t compete with developing nations in industries that require only cheap labour (unless we import that labour or drop our general living standards significantly). Our workforce for the most part needs to be tech savvy, able to exchange and develop complex ideas and to be able to sort fact from fiction.
- Most of us only spend about 1/3 of our time at work. Why shouldn’t a bus driver be trained as a philosopher, artist or naturalist so that they can contribute to our hidden economy? University should not just be about churning out fodder for industry it should be encouraging people to think, enriching our culture and appreciating knowledge. We are all on the “transferable skills” bandwagon but at the core of a degree is the topic, whether it be marine biology or English which is the primary motivator for academics and students.
- Poorly educated people vote for extremism (left or right). An educated population will have more centrist, sensible political leanings and be able to deal with complex concepts. Uneducated populations vote for personalities or according to simple metrics such as skin colour, tribe etc. or fall victim to simple (and often false) messages from politicians who are more interested in the power they can gain than the people they serve.
- Everyone should have one chance to reach for the stars. If you go to university and do well it can be a life changing experience and make a huge difference to your future life chances – no matter what your background. While not perfect (e.g. look at gender balance of professors – mostly male) universities are much more meritocratic than other spheres of life.