The current education system is in crisis, primarily because it no longer knows what it’s for.
That’s not a quotation, it’s a conclusion. Education in this country and many others is about preparing people for the workplace by socialising them into compliant and willing participants in an economic system designed to perpetuate economic growth at the expense of everything else. You might have thought it was to prepare people for adult life, or to nurture their ambitions, but any analysis of the education system shows just how far from that we have come.
A dispassionate observer would conclude that the purpose of education is selection. Children are brought into a system where gradually they are filtered, first by compliance and behaviour, then by tests of one sort or another. In the UK, GCSEs select people of academic ability, A-Levels determine university entrance, and universities determine fitness to go on and join the organisations which this system was established to perpetuate.
Our politicians say that they want more people to succeed while simultaneously raising the bar to ensure that more people fail. And if you think exams have got easier since you did them, then you’ve swallowed another lie. Go and try one. The past papers are available, and you can see for yourself how much easier they are. Try GCSE Biology, for instance. It has as much vocabulary to learn as GCSE French.
But it’s worse than that. Education has become an economic end in itself. The government is effectively borrowing from the populace against future tax revenue and using education as the incentive in a bait-and-switch of such enormous proportions that it’s difficult to comprehend.
This is easily evidenced by the current tuition fee policy of the government. Anyone with a reasonable grasp of arithmetic can deduce that a student paying £9,000 a year for tuition fees on a three-year course will be in debt to the government for £27,000 by the time they are at the end of a three-year course. The actual average figures are greater than this because of living expenses, rents and other fees..
There are about 400,000 university places each year. Let’s assume for simplicity that all of those places are for only a three-year course. Each student incurs a debt of £27,000 simply for their tuition fees, excluding living expenses, rent, and everything else.
400,000 x £27,000 equals an additional £10.8Bn of personal debt each year
But some of that money is paid off. For an above average UK earner being paid £30,000 per year the repayment is than £1,176 per year, potentially less.
400,000 x £1,176 equals £470.4M in repayments, which including the 1.5% interest takes 28 years to pay off that debt, so that by the time the first tranche of students have eliminated their debt to be replaced by the last tranche entering we have accumulated something like £290Bn in personal debt that is simply recycling. It never reduces because there are always new students taking on new debt. To put this in perspective the UK budget for the entirety of education, from joining primary school to post-graduate is annually about £90Bn.
So why is the government doing this? The key is that this is personal debt, not government debt.
The government doesn’t have to account for it in their figures because the money isn’t owed by them, it’s a personal loan to the students. With almost £300Bn off the books and hidden away in the loans of past students, they can claim that the deficit (the difference between what they spend and what they receive) is falling and that they are managing the economy well. What they are actually doing is concealing the problem and re-badging a graduate-tax as a loan so that they can take the money now and pay it back later.
But that’s only if things are perfect and all those student loans are paid off, whereas the actuality is that some of those students will get ill, some will move abroad, some will never earn the money to reach the threshold, some will become stay-at-home Mums and Dads, or not get jobs for one reason or another. The debt then has to be written off and falls back on the taxpayer, not now, but in 30 years time when it finally becomes due.
All of this is a direct contradiction of everything the government has said about managing the deficit, reducing borrowing and living within our means. It’s spending today against jam tomorrow in a way that’s almost certain to precipitate a financial crisis when the gamble doesn’t pay off. Taxpayers are the ones that will end up funding that crisis in the same way that it was taxpayers that bailed out the banks when they lost all our money gambling on fictitious mortgages.
We are holding out the offer of success and simultaneously hobbling our young people with debt into their late middle age so that we can support a con-trick. It’s not just morally repugnant, it’s bad economics and almost certain to fail. The important thing is it will fail later, not sooner.
So when a Conservative or Liberal Democrat supporter tells you that they are the party of good economics and financial management, you will know that what they actually mean.