That degree in Disco Studies may come in useful one day
The present government has hugely increased state spending on education. This year they will spend well over £80bn, comfortably more than double what they inherited in 1997. In inflation adjusted terms, spending has increased by 5% pa, much faster than GDP. State education's share of GDP has risen by nearly one full percentage point.
In fact, at 5.3% of GDP, we are now spending more on state education than any other G7 country except France (on 5.6%).
So what have taxpayers got for all that money?
Have we had the promised leap in education standards, and can we now see a bright new workforce equipped to triumph in the post-industrial hi-tech challenges of the 21st Century?
Not exactly. For sure, we've had record GCSE results, record A Level results, and record numbers of university graduates. But we haven't had any of the other stuff - the stuff we actually need. We are spending tens of billions extra every year, yet the end results are no better.
In fact, so ill-equipped is the bright new workforce pouring out of our state schools and universities, that the government is now having to pay employers to take them on, even temporarily.
Last week, we heard taxpayers' money was being used to bribe employers to take on 35,000 unemployed school leavers as "apprentices" (see this blog). And today we hear another bunch of employers are being bribed to offer an unspecified number of "internships"* to unemployed university grads. Skills Secretary John Denham (absolutely no relation) explains:
Wow! Some of them might even get jobs?
"They [new graduates] will be a very big group: around 400,000. We can’t just leave people to fend for themselves. At the end they will be more employable, and some of them will get jobs."
And pray explain again why we've got 400,000 graduates - graduates who are so ill-equipped for life that they can't even be left to fend for themselves. Remembering of course, that when Labour came to power, our universities were only producing 200,000 grads per year.
Of course, there's a recession/slump on, so employment conditions are tough. But the problem with these new graduates goes much deeper than that. As we've blogged many times (start here), both the nation and the students themselves have had shocking value from Labour's gung-ho expansion of "higher" education and its entirely arbitrary 50% participation target. A brief recap:
- Taxpayers now spend £12bn pa on higher education; the students themselves spend a whole lot more
- There are 2.3m students, or 4% of the entire population (including 27,000 doing that old favourite, the degree in media studies)
- The 50% participation target is "aspirational" - ie entirely arbitrary (admitted to the Public Accounts Committee by the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England - see this blog)
- The average HE participation rate across the OECD is 35%: ours is already 40% and heading for 50%
- Thousands of graduates already do non-graduate jobs, and that number is growing rapidly- their degrees have simply not equipped them to do anything else (according to HESA, 75% - yes, 75% - of 2002-3 graduates were still in non-graduate jobs four years after graduation; what's more, 26% weren't in full-time jobs of any kind
- The average financial return to a degree is plummeting - according to PWC, the gross return to an Arts degree is now only about £30,000, and that takes no account of the costs of study and the earnings foregone - net net an average Arts degree almost certainly reduces lifetime wealth.
The truth is that despite their talk of "meeting the challenges of the globalised economy", this government has never really seen education in economic terms. From comprehensivisation to Laura Spence, Labour's priority has always been social engineering. For them, it has always been far more important to put everyone on the same level, than to pursue educational excellence and national economic advantage.
Which is why an increasing proportion of top jobs are now filled by those with private education. It certainly isn't "fair", but it is the inevitable consequence of turning state schools and colleges into dumbed-down social engineering factories.
And unfortunately, as the slump gathers pace, the dismal results of that approach are going to be even more apparent. People who may have been employable in a credit boom are going to find it very tough in the harsh future now unfolding before us.
All of us will pay the price. Not only will our future economic growth be lower, but those in real jobs will be carrying the heavy burden of those who are not. And that includes those whose jobs only exist by dint of public subsidy.