Ed­u­ca­tion’s value to so­ci­ety is lost amid fo­cus on graduate salaries

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

Paul He­wit­son (Let­ters, 28 Novem­ber) quotes Jack Brit­ton, the au­thor of an IFS re­port into graduate pay, who re­ferred to “a large class of men do­ing cour­ses that have a zero or neg­a­tive mone­tary value”. How do we mea­sure the value of a de­gree?

Is it solely and wholly on the ba­sis of earn­ings? Pre­sum­ably, then, a de­gree that leads to a ca­reer in teach­ing or nurs­ing is worth only a frac­tion of a de­gree that leads into com­mer­cial law or cor­po­rate ac­coun­tancy?

What about the value to so­ci­ety? What about the ed­u­ca­tional and in­tel­lec­tual value of a de­gree?

Judg­ing the value of aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions purely on the ba­sis of sub­se­quent earn­ings is typ­i­cal of the philis­tin­ism that the cur­rent gov­ern­ment and rightwing press pro­mote, and which views uni­ver­si­ties as lit­tle more than ed­u­ca­tional su­per­mar­kets sell­ing a pack­aged prod­uct to bar­gain-hunt­ing stu­dent con­sumers; uni­ver­si­ties in which ed­u­ca­tion is subor­di­nated to pro­vid­ing the skills ap­par­ently de­manded by big busi­ness. Pete Dorey Bath, Som­er­set

I was be­mused by the ar­ti­cle “LSE leads way for top earn­ers be­fore age 30…” (28 Novem­ber). One of our chil­dren grad­u­ated from LSE with bach­e­lor’s and mas­ter’s de­grees. At nearly 50, we still oc­ca­sion­ally bail her out. Then the penny dropped; she went into the car­ing pro­fes­sion, where job ful­fil­ment is as­sumed to com­pen­sate for a low salary. Chris­tine Hawkes

Cam­bridge

Con­cern about the rise in un­con­di­tional of­fers from 3,000 in 2013 to 87,500 this year seems cen­tred

on how “many stu­dents could be dis­tracted from the fi­nal year of their school­ing” and achieve lower A-level grades than ex­pected (Un­con­di­tional of­fers made to third of univer­sity ap­pli­cants, 29 Novem­ber).

What the ar­ti­cle failed to men­tion was the ex­tra stress on A-level teach­ers, them­selves set tar­gets by se­nior man­age­ment. Shouldn’t Of­sted be tak­ing uni­ver­si­ties’ ac­tion into ac­count when judg­ing schools and their re­sults? The ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary’s con­cern should also be fo­cused on how these of­fers are of­ten made to stu­dents who drop out be­fore com­plet­ing their first year, but who nev­er­the­less will have in­creased the greedy univer­sity’s rev­enue by £9,000. If Ucas can es­tab­lish how many stu­dents with un­con­di­tional of­fers gained “A-lev­els two grades lower than pre­dicted”, Damian Hinds can ascer­tain also how many failed to com­plete a sin­gle year of their course. Whether he would find it “dis­turb­ing” is a moot point, as many of these pupils were only tak­ing A-lev­els be­cause of gov­ern­ment un­der­fund­ing of more ap­pro­pri­ate cour­ses.

The sim­ple so­lu­tion is to ban such of­fers, which are sim­ply the lazy way to get “bums on seats”, and in­sist uni­ver­si­ties make more ef­fort to at­tract their stu­dents, with good teach­ing, sen­si­ble use of re­sources in­clud­ing the pay­ment for vicechan­cel­lors, and prospec­tuses which de­tail all the mea­sures taken to look af­ter stu­dents’ health and wel­fare. Bernie Evans

Liver­pool

The dys­func­tional na­ture of our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and the prob­lem­atic na­ture of de­gree clas­si­fi­ca­tions were brought home to me 50 years ago when a friend was awarded a Cam­bridge first – one of the only three that year in the ge­og­ra­phy depart­ment – but was told by his tu­tor that it was “a poor first”! Pre­sum­ably, given re­cent fig­ures, there are now many more “poor firsts”, though hope­fully stu­dents won’t get that kind of feed­back (UK uni­ver­si­ties to hold in­quiry into de­gree awards poli­cies, the­guardian.com, 28 Novem­ber). Pro­fes­sor Colin Richards

Spark Bridge, Cum­bria

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