Guy Bentley comments on the sense of entitement among our student population,
On this wet, cold winters day London and the country will be treated to something either bringing them to laughter or their blood to boil. The Demo 2012 march by students of the UK is supposed to be focused on three things; education, employment and empowerment. I think I can do one better and sum it up in another word also beginning with e, entitlement.
Students living in one of the richest countries in the world with one of the best university systems expect the rest of the public as a matter of course to bear cost of an education which will primarily benefit the student to the tune of £100,000 over the course of their lifetime. However we can already hear the howls of the next NUS representative and sociology student that ‘we benefit the economy, we need an educated workforce for the jobs of the future’. This argument whilst true actually does not address the issue of who should bear the cost and to what extent.
If students were sincere in this argument that public funds should be used to invest in students due to the rate of return on this investment I wonder whether they would on favour of this course of action. Let us examine the return that graduates in different subjects are likely to contribute to the economy over the course of their lifetimes. As the NUS is no longer calling for the complete abolition of fees the amount students pay will be determined by their likely future contribution to the economy. In effect lets have physics, maths and engineering graduates pay less than half what their counterparts studying political science, english and sociology will pay.
Somehow I don’t think this is the kind of funding compromise the NUS is looking for. We will doubtless hear the argument today that education is a good in itself and all those who wish to study should be able to do so. On this point I largely agree, education should not simply measured as a good in terms of its economic benefit but how much it enriches the life of the person receiving that education. However those protesting today seem have an incredibly narrow and anachronistic view of education.
You do not need three years at a university to be educated in particular field or set of ideas. The purpose of a university is not simply the education but education to a degree that it will translate into skills that will be useful in gaining employment. If one wishes to receive education solely for the pleasure of enriching ones life through knowledge there are numerous ways in which one can do so through books, online courses, voluntary organisations etc.
Whilst many would agree that education is a good in itself does that really justify taking the money of others who disagree with you to pay for your own intellectual enjoyment?
The knock on benefits of all sorts of activities can be used to justify why it deserves public money. Many argue that sporting activities are goods in themselves in bringing people together in civic society, encouraging healthy lifestyles and providing jobs to all those who work in the sporting industry. Very few people however would seriously make the case that football is need of taxpayer support because of the benefits it brings or because not everybody can afford football tickets.
This is not the primary argument against the state funding universities however it is a valid argument to advance against those who believe that their preferences for education solely because they enjoy it and believe it enriches their life should paid for by others.
Another focus of this march is employment. The high tax and the high regulatory regime the UK has now is holding back business growth and the kind of rapid job creation and wage growth we would all like to see. However I do not see tax cuts or de regulation on the NUS agenda. Instead ‘we need fair work and fair pay; sustainable jobs are a necessary building block for a sustainable future and a just society’, this is the kind of useless slogan which would give a new labour spin doctor a run for their money.
What I suspect this means is that these students expect others to create jobs for them which provide them with salaries far in excess of the national average and with significant time off for holidays and jobs which are ‘sustainable’ however defined. In short they would like other people to provide them with their first jobs as well as their education and make it impossible to create any jobs in the first place.
Education comes in many forms and most of them don’t need taxpayer support. Students protesting today are protesting, not only for their own special interest in that they want others to shoulder the costs of their education they are protesting against the changing of the times in the delivery and provision of education.
No one can possibly know what education in the future will look like however we are getting some interesting ideas. Online learning is growing rapidly and has had huge success, part time education has been around for many years but is developing in new exciting ways that will be more cost effective and easier to access for people in the middle of their working lives.
However, as the American social scientist Charles Murray has observed the three or four year university BA course is becoming increasingly obsolete and even destructive. To be in with any chance of success in this society many believe they have to undertake three years of coursework and classroom work and accumulate tens of thousands of pounds of debt. This is encouraged by students not having to pay the full cost of their education.
Students should not be spending their time rentseeking, rather they should be asking the government to get out of the way to allow easier access for new universities and ways of teaching to challenge the status quo. We have an outdated universities system not suited to a world in which todays students will not just have one career but more likely several different ones. We need to incorporate all what was best in the old universities systems to the new methods of delivery and teaching which are emerging today.
This will not be achieved if unviersities are still receiving their funding from the dead hand of the state. It will be achieved through the innovation of of the private sector where students will not be told that they are lucky to be receiving a university education rather that universities will be thanking students for picking them in a new diverse and exciting marketplace.
What we are witnessing from students today is not the protests of progressives who are wish to change society for the bester. Rather we are seeing a large scale demonstration of rent seeking reactionaries intent on standing in front of the tide of change and saying no.