Jeremy Gilbert tells the sorry tale of British higher education
Here’s a little bit but it’s worth reading in full.
The gradual erosion of student grants and benefit entitlements over the years, and the relatively meagre sums on offer through the students loans and bursaries schemes, has led to a situation in which, at many institutions like my own, large numbers of students are forced to take on over 20 hours a week of paid employment just to make ends meet during term time, and to work full time during the holidays. Struggling to complete full-time degree programmes under these circumstances, such students are at best exhausted and overworked, at worst completely unable to engage properly with their courses.
The consequence is that the great but undiscussed social divide in British universities is between those students who have parents able to subsidise their living costs sufficiently for them to be able actually to be students, and the growing majority who do not.
At the same time, pressure from government to transform university programmes outside elite institutions into vocational training programmes, and the anxiety which students themselves suffer about exactly what they are supposed to get out of their struggle to learn under such trying circumstances, combine to create an atmosphere of febrile anxiety in which ‘employability’ becomes the sole goal of higher education for both students and institutions: a far cry from the tradition of life-enhancing, culture-enriching education which universities are supposed to offer access to. If this tendency is not checked, then the resulting situation will be dire: a con-trick perpetrated on students, parents and the public whereby what is offered under the guise of ‘university education’ is simply a new form of tertiary vocational training for the service, retail and media industries.