Friday, October 5, 2007

Should 50% of Students Go to University?

At the moment the UK government has a target for 50% of school leavers to enter university.

But, is this necessary or desirable?
  • The UK has a shortage of plumbers, electricians and nurses. Encouraging people to take a degree will not solve these shortages.
  • A highly skilled workforce is essential to a successful economy, but, it is not clear that university education is the best way to create a highly skilled workforce.
  • Some argue the primary benefit of higher education is as a signalling mechanism. i.e. a degree signals more ability and capacity, but, it does little to increase labour productivity directly. (this, of course, varies between subjects e.g. medicine)
  • Perhaps, greater emphasis should be placed on practical, vocational training. This does not require 3 expensive years of higher education, but, the benefit to the economy is more direct.
  • Also, with an ageing population, an increase in the student population will further reduce the already shrinking labour force. This will put further pressure on government finances.
  • Everyone should have the right to go to university, but, that does not mean we should encourage everyone to spend 3 years studying at university.
  • Perhaps university should remain selective. Why do we want someone with 2 Es at A level to spend another 3 years studying? If a student gets say DDD at A level, I really don't know how helpful it is for them or the economy to spend another 3 years of academic study.
  • University education is very expensive. An expansion in student numbers means that resources will be more stretched. The government want more people to go to university, but, they don't particularly want to pay for it. The result is we have an expansion in university numbers, but, a declining ratio of teachers per student. Is Quantity really preferable to quality?
  • If the number of students going to university is decreased (or kept constant) it will be easier to finance it. But, if the % going to university increases to 50% it will require higher top up fees or more taxes.
  • In the UK, there is still an element of class status about getting a university degree. Somehow getting a degree helps you enter the middle class. There is nothing wrong with this attitude, but, I think it is a mistake to undervalue vocational training qualifications such as becoming and electrician.
What do you think? Is it desirable to encourage more people to go to University?


It is worth noting that many of our competitor economies have a much higher % of students going to university. Some argue the low % of students going to university is responsible for holding back the UK economy

1 comment:

travelbudget said...

I got DDE at A level and a First Class honours degree. My housemate got ABB at A level and failed his first and second year at uni.

Previous academic underachievement shouldnt be punished, instead a new found desire to learn and push yourself should be encouraged.