The Emperor’s New Qualifications
We’re thrilled today to host another article from Paul Willis, who previously brought us Not so Great Britain: The illusion of economic stability. To steal a quote from Paul, he is “literally my brother from another mother” so I guess we have our father to thank for passing on the genetic predisposition that makes us rant about all things financial and societal in a mildly sarcastic way. Sterling Effort has a particular style, and it’s always a treat to feature work from writers who happen to fit that style so perfectly. Paul is definitely one of those writers. – Ash
When I left school I wanted to be a film maker. I was accepted onto a film production course at the University of the Arts London, but after a few months I realised the material we were being taught was very basic and it was nothing you couldn’t learn independently. The final straw came when I turned up to to a class, and a man stood at the front and said “Okay, what we’re going to be doing today is dancing. In order to be a true artist you must learn to dance!”. I left 2 weeks later. Nurseries were more academic.
I felt ripped off that I had spent £3000 on the tuition for that year, but what I realised later was that the UK tax payer had spent £6000 on subsidising the tuition for me. When the coalition announced in 2010 that students would be expected to pay the full £9000 annual cost of going to university, people angrily protested the decision, acting as if some kind of human right was being violated, but since when was it a human right to study poetry for 3 years? Why was it seen as justified that a builder working a 40 hour week should be paying thousands of pounds to fund the tuition of a drama student?
Everyone has a right to education and the UK’s investment in primary and secondary education is hugely admirable, but why should that extend past the age of 18? If every person in the UK is entitled to have an undergraduate degree paid for them, why not a masters and a PhD? The only way you can justify tax payer’s money being spent on the cost of higher education is if in the future those students will contribute to the country more than they would have if they hadn’t gone to university. As can be seen from the levels of graduate unemployment, underemployment and the people working at unpaid internships, this isn’t happening in the majority of cases.
Our economy is flatlining again and the “worst recession since the great depression” is getting worse. We have to focus on job creation and not skill creation, otherwise those skills go to waste. What tuition fees do is make people more responsible for their career choices, it makes them back themselves for the future; “I don’t care if I’m in £30,000 worth of debt because I’m going to be earning £40,000 for the next 40 years”. And that comes with looking at the jobs available and thinking “will a degree in this subject get me that job?”.
At the moment the only degree course that the UK government still subsidises heavily is Medicine, in order to supply the UK with doctors which it needs, and that makes sense. But arguably what Britain needs just as much, if not more, are people who are going to contribute to innovation and increasing exports; people who specialise in Science, Engineering, and Research and Development. These are the degrees that should have lower tuition fees or no tuition fees at all, so we have more James Dysons and less unemployed art students.
Entrepreneurship is just as important. Being young gives one of the best opportunities to set up your own business and it’s entrepreneurship that is the backbone of any strong economy. If the government is so eager to lend billions of pounds to students in higher education, shouldn’t they be willing to lend a fraction of that to assist young people wanting to set up businesses?
We need to stop looking at young adults in this country as people that need to be fed education, that need to be fed remedial jobs. Instead we need to look at them as the feeders; The feeders of innovation, the feeders of job creation. Because at the moment, Britain is starving.
And what happens to the people wanting to start a career in the arts? Well, for me, I switched from film making to economics; they say that you need to suffer for your art and studying economics was certainly painful. However, what it taught me was business fundamentals, it taught me strategy. Between my second and third year I set up a small independent production company and have just finished making my first feature length film. What would I be doing if I had completed the film course? If I had been saddled with huge debts and no respectable qualification? I’m not sure. I probably wouldn’t be making films for a living. I would probably be making coffee.