Since the Further and Higher Education Act of 1992, many more education institutions came into being to cope with the swell of students looking to get onto courses. With more institutions offering a myriad of courses and more students getting university degrees it was obvious this was only going to end one way.
Of course, it’s essential that everyone has the opportunity to get an education but clearly the overall quality of it has deteriorated at the expense of everyone. Now, tuition fees are going to be in the region of £6,000 – £9,000 with no real guarantee that students are going to get a significantly improved learning experience.
What has happened is that education has now been commodified in that consumers are paying for a branded product i.e. a ‘good’ university now equates to a luxury brand.
While the tip of the iceberg is good education providers, good courses and honourable alumni, there is other 6/7ths of the iceberg that invisibly, does not. Unfortunately many students will be, and have been, paying incredible sums of money for a product that will do absolutely nothing to enhance their employment chances. Many universities run courses that merely gloss over their subject matter – creating a curriculum based on fresh air and giving little meaningful contact time to students – leaving them completely unprepared to use their skills in a working environment. Money spent is money unseen, naturally: much of the sums paid to universities come from students who will have to work years working in dead-end jobs to pay off a student loan and other debts incurred.
All H.E. institutions are now opting to take a greater ratio of international students to domestic ones. Simply because universities can receive close to £20,000 from non-EU students and one can assume that is much closer to the real reason why fees have been increased in the UK. Simply put, if fees weren’t increased, domestic students would be frozen out of university places completely, giving the far-right a podium to vent their nationalist rhetoric.
Private companies offering services that cater for professional and recreational learners too, in areas such a computer/software training and language learning. These have come about essentially through the fragmentation of work and how we perceive it. The notion of the ‘job for life’ retired with many of the baby-boomer generation and nowadays, most people will expect to work any number of jobs throughout their working life. Because of this, the pressure to continually learn or re-train or to enhance one’s skills in their given field (or to re-train in another industry) is greater. Many people do so, in their own time and from their own pocket.
Many of these companies offer general training – a course which may or may not offer a qualification at the end of the course other than a flimsy certificate to show completion. Clearly, regulation of these companies and their practices has been more than a tad lax by successive governments.
With self-proclaimed experts running courses, people paying considerable sums of money help to perpetuate the illusion of life-long learning and self-improvement. I have done a number of courses since graduating in order to spruce up a CV with a worthy but limp Arts degree and very few of these have met my expectations. Even universities now run these courses – I attended evening classes on web design at a London university where, after 6 or so weeks, it became quite clear that the teacher running the course knew little more than we did; much of the information she taught us came from a Dummies book, which could have been done in half the time, with someone who could actually teach the subject matter. Given the fees and the number of students, it’s probably a sideline for universities.
Students are now paying more money for less education, and universities and education providers have become ‘dream factories’ where much like any other commodity or product, if we purchase it we become more desirable – just as advertising tries to create a link between the consumer and sexual attractiveness, so too does education; in this case, we hope to to become more attractive to potential employers.
We are creating a society of individuals with titles and ‘skills-sets’ and half learnt talents in the vain hope they will join up the missing dots themselves. Employers exploit this by offering desperate graduates few employment rights and modest and in some cases, no salary. All based on a pretence of ‘on-the-job training’ which will give the sucker some insight into an industry they might have little hope of breaking into otherwise. The real hostages to all this: quality, pride in one’s work and long-term job security.
More and more students are now from rich or comfortable backgrounds, but there are also those who are gambling someone’s savings on the hope of a better future. It is entirely possible that overseas students might get a respectable job in their country based on an education ‘product’ from an exotic or pseudo-important sounding institution, yet the likelihood that they learn anything purposeful, decreases.
This now has less to do with the pedigogical abilities of academic staff and more to do with the ‘dumbing down’ of academia as a means and not an end, and the level of candidate now accepted – as well as the schools, colleges and universities approach to business: ‘make money and if anyone learns anything it’s a bonus’. The bottom line is now drowning education and its merits; providing value for money and giving students some element of pastoral care i.e customer service – education might then just detach itself from the retail concept it has become.