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More Graduates, Less Graduate Jobs by Xavier Connolly
All the while Labour were in power they kept muttering about the knowledge economy as if simply having attained a University degree was a marketable asset. In reality were were spending fortunes on educating people to be call centre clerks, shelf fillers and burger flippers. Now the coalition must find a way to deal with the problem of having too many graducates in areas that offer no jobs.

More Graduates, Less Graduate Jobs
by Xavier Connolly.
2010-07-19
CREATIVE COMMONS: Attribute, non commercial, no derivs.
KEYWORDS: graduate, university, education, higher, degree, jobs, career, opportunity, funding, tuition, knowledge, economy, politics, government, money, coalition, Cable

More Graduates, Less Graduate Jobs
by Xavier Connolly

Vince Cable the coalition government's minister responsible for business and higher education has kicked off the biggest shake up in University financing in the past four decades. Since the vast and rapid expansion of higher education begun bt the Wilson government in the 1960 there has been constant growth in University funding, the number of University places available and the amount of government money flowing into Universities.

Eventually, inevitably (stimulus spending supporters please note) the University system became too expensive for the state to support it. Tony Blair's Labour government, while blethering about everybody having the right to a University education introduced tuition fees and student loans to that instead of the state paying for most student's education, the students left University saddled with a hige dept that would blight their lives and careers. At the same time more and more school leavers were being steered towards a University education but due to the depletion of the manufacturing base there were fewer and fewer suitable jobs.

All the while Labour were in power they kept muttering about the knowledge economy as if simply having attained a University degree was a marketable asset. In reality were were spending fortunes on educating people to be call centre clerks, shelf fillers and burger flippers.

Somehow the crazy situation had to be addressed. In an economy forced to face the reality that perpetual and perpetually accelerating economic growth is impossibe we had to face the reality that churning out ever greater numbers of graphic designers, journalists, art historians, sociologists and music teachers was futile when we already had a surplus of that type of qualified person but were importing plumbers, mechanics, electricians, joiners, bricklayers and engineering operatives from eastern Europe.

We had gone beyond saturation point for graduates.

That would have been quite an easy problem but the more pressing business of reducing the unsustainable public sector deficit creaed by Labour's insane spending and loonytoons economic policies put a different complexion on it. So what will Cable do?

Comparing the existing system of tuition fees to a "poll tax" that graduates paid regardless of their income, the skills secretary argued it was fairer for people to pay according to their earning power. He said: "It surely can't be right that a teacher or care worker or research scientist is expected to pay the same graduate contribution as a top commercial lawyer or surgeon or City analyst whose graduate premium is so much bigger."

Graduates earned on average £100,000 more than non-graduates in their life-time, Cable said, and there are significant premiums for degrees such as medicine.

Cable asked Lord Browne, the former CEO of BP who was conducting a review of student finance, to look at a variable graduate tax tied to earnings. Low earners may end up paying less than they currently do for their degrees while those with high incomes pay more.

The graduate tax would replace the current system, under which the government lends money to students to cover the cost of their degree courses and graduates pay this back once they start earning more than £15,000.

Phasing out tuition fees is a crucial part of Liberal Democrat education policy. Any moves by the coalition to raise fees – or even keep the status quo – could prove divisive. Lib Dem MPs will be allowed to abstain from any vote on fees under the coalition agreement.

The Minister warned the Labour government's target of extending higher education to 50% of the population was unrealistic and likely to be scrapped. Figures from the university admissions service, Ucas, revealed the pressure on university places: universities have received more than 660,000 applications and a record number of students likely to be denied a place this autumn.

Cable told an audience of vice- chancellors at South Bank University in London: "What we have is an urgent problem. Universities are going to have to ask how they can do more for less. There will probably be less public funding per student … quite possibly fewer students coming straight from school to do three-year degrees." Universities had to be prepared for a period of contraction. "Britain is a poorer country than two years ago and future spending had to be adjusted accordingly."

Cable's proposals mark a departure from the current sytem of University funding and the biggest change to the university system since the early 1990s, when at least 40 polytechnics became universities and higher education was expanded.

(Xavier Connolly was a professsional enginer and is now a lecturer in mechanical engineering)

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