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Just a few things…

June 26, 2010

This week Paul Marshall, head of the 1994 Group of universities, said that he expects a shift towards private universities as students face a shortage of spaces.

But there are other ways of remedying the problem of shortages. For instance, if Lord Browne reports that student fees should be hiked up to £7000 per year, it seems that there will be a sharp drop in applications to university, so less places will be required.

Elsewhere, it looks like Harrods has re-invented the apprenticeship but cunningly disguised it as a degree. The famous department store, in association with Anglia Ruskin University, will offer its employees the opportunity to do a two year BA (Hons) in ‘the art of sales’. The new Sales degree will include modules in human behaviour, psychology and business enterprise, but, alas there is no mention of a module on Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism. The BBC reports that:

Staff who are employed in sales roles at the department store and have at least two years of relevant work experience are being encouraged to apply for the degree, which they can study for alongside their work.

I understand also that staff who take the degree will pay no tuition fees, so solving the problem of young people turning their back on higher education… if higher education is what a degree from Harrods actually is.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Dr Disco permalink
    June 26, 2010 3:07 pm

    Rab – McDonalds has been doing this a while.
    It was really only a matter of time before Harrods took the lead from the fine food establishment. Although, of course, McD’s only gives one an ‘A’ level, so one is still sure of ones place in the world.

  2. Rabelais permalink*
    June 26, 2010 3:45 pm

    You’re right. I’d forgotten about that. Jesus, we really are heading into the New Dark Ages.

  3. Dr Disco permalink
    June 26, 2010 6:08 pm

    In fact, this may be the way forward to avoid the 7,000 fee. Get McD’s to put me through 3 qualifications in burger flipping, cleaning table legs and unblocking drains. Then I have my 3 qualifications necessary for university. Then I join Harrods and get my degree in selling suits of armour, rare terrapins and Stella McCartney anti wrinkle cream. Then I apply for a scholarship to do an MRES. See, it’s all free…

  4. CharlieMcMenamin permalink
    June 28, 2010 8:42 am

    Why does all this make me feel confused?

    On the one hand, there’s a bit of me – actually, quite a big bit – that is ever ready to react in the approved bien pensant manner, throwing up my arms in horror at the reduction of education to training.

    Then there’s that bit of me that recalls Richard Sennett and pride in practical work and all that stuff, and I feel, fuck it, am I just being a bit too sodding Guardianista for my own good ?

    Sure, you don’t need – or shouldn’t need – a bloody degree education to work behind the counter in Harrods. & sure, I am instinctively suspicious of employers deciding what should be taught in either schools or universities.

    But we seem launched on an unstoppable path towards universities demanding more and more money from their students. Put bluntly, this means that young master and miss McM, 13 and 10 respectively, are likely to cost me getting on for £50K in a few years when their time to apply comes round. Well, I haven’t got it – or rather, if I’ve got it , it’s locked up in my bricks and mortar and I can’t get at it. So, in part at least, someone else is going to have to pay. There only seem three choices:

    1. The kids themselves – I’m agin this – it will eat into their ability to pay for my care home

    2. The state – well, yes, we can all grow old waiting for that to happen..

    3. The employers

    I don’t like these options. But I’m still confused.

    • July 7, 2010 4:42 pm

      Given that a university degree is becoming the equivalent of ‘O’-Levels in terms of value, I’d suggest school-leavers think hard before committing to a university degree.

      They must think whether the degree is valuable in monetary terms – not something that many 18-year-olds even consider.

      And they also need to think of university work as more than something just getting in the way of the drinking and shagging fest that they think university should be.

      Finally – we need more options for degree level study. The Open University is a great option (I’m planning on starting an OU science degree in September) – about £4k for the whole degree, plus you don’t have to fund a whole campus lifestyle on top.

      More private university provision doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive provision. It could mean more tailored distance learning, for example.

      But whatever we do, if we’re going to open up further education to the masses, we have to move away from the old-style elitist – and expensive – delivery model.

      • Rabelais permalink*
        July 8, 2010 10:22 am

        I think the question of options (and more of them) is going to become pretty central to the debate around HE.

        I was an associate lecturer for the OU for 3 years. It was a fantastic teaching experience. Mature, dedicated, and intelligent students. I’m sure you will thoroughly enjoy being an OU student. Good luck with course.

  5. Rabelais permalink*
    June 28, 2010 12:25 pm

    Hi Charlie,
    As you know I work in a university but, perhaps rather ironically, I will never be able to afford to send my children to university. However, because I work in a university, I’m not too bothered about that.

    Now, as for your confusion. Perhaps what is confusing you is the distinct feeling that despite everything that has happened in recent history with regards education, and post-secondary education in particular, we seem to have travelled a very long way to come back to where we started – rich kids get to go to elite institutions and the poor get an apprenticeship, in the future from Tescos or such like.

    However, the fact that Harrods wants to train its staff to a high level is broadly speaking a good thing. I mean, shouldn’t this be the responsibility of all employers? You’d think so, but recently training has increasingly been seen as the business of higher education as more and more students from non-traditional backgrounds were herded through admissions and three year courses that were presented to them as vocational, but more often than not didn’t have the resources to deliver on that promise.

    In my own discipline we talk of producing ‘industry ready graduates’, trained on equipment that is up to ‘industry standard’.

    But how could this ever have been possible given the rapid technological developments in industry today? Universities simply could not (and certainly now, cannot) afford the costs of technologically intensive degrees. Nevertheless, that technology exists out there and it’s the employers who have it, so isn’t the most sensible thing to have employers train their new recruits rather than belly-aching about how little graduates know when they enter work for the first time?

    So I’m all in favour of separating training from degrees, which is why I sort of welcome Harrods’ initiative. But it’s not a degree and it shouldn’t be described as such. Simply calling an apprenticeship a degree, flatters neither course and threantens the identity and integrity of both.

    But for us Lefties, we’re confronted with a familiar problem, which when you mention Sennett is recalled: the separation of hand and head, and the class status and financial awards accorded to each. So how do we get more working class students into higher education to do proper degrees (rather than the Mickey Mouse varieties that have all too often been offered), the sort of degrees that deliver, even the very modest ambition of ‘social mobility’? For me, I think we probably need to think about a smaller university sector; the return of grants for a smaller cohort of students; greater encouragement given to adult education, part-time study and open and distance learning.

    I think we’re going through a mad period. We mistook education for economic policy; produced more graduates than there were real graduate jobs; saddled a generation with extraordinary debt and poor degrees qualifications and now it looks like we might have the cheek to ask the next generation to pay more for the dubious privilege of higher education. I think it’s nothing short of a fucking mess and there is no painless way out of it.

    • tommy morahan permalink
      July 3, 2010 8:25 am

      There is nothing wrong, IMHO, with a young person working their way through college. Therefore, anyone can afford to go to University, IMHO.

      • Rabelais permalink*
        July 3, 2010 5:23 pm

        There’s nothing wrong with it Tommy, except that students who have to work to sustain their studies are at a disadvantage in comparison to those who are privileged enough not to have to work, and can therefore, potentially, devote more time to their education.

      • tommy morahan permalink
        July 3, 2010 8:43 pm

        Rab, agreed and I do realise that I am disadvantaged as a result of working my way through but sometimes we have to just get on with it. (BTW the fact that a student can avoid work throughout college does not guarantee that he/she will spend more time studying. Just a thought but I agree with your general theory (socio-economic). As a side-bar personally I think students may learn as much from working as from not working through college.

  6. CharlieMcMenamin permalink
    June 28, 2010 1:25 pm

    Well, yeah but no but yeah.

    Some of the prestigious ‘academic’ degrees have always been, in essence, straightforward career training – I’m thinking of law and medicine. Perhaps engineering as well for all I know. So this ‘education’ v ‘training’ divide can be quite tricky to pin down.

    Of course things are a mess and I quite accept there there is no easy way out. But , regretfully, I am coming round to your view that,
    “…..we probably need to think about a smaller university sector; the return of grants for a smaller cohort of students; greater encouragement given to adult education, part-time study and open and distance learning.”

    I have yet to mention this change of heart to Mrs Charlie tho’: she got her first academic job in a university 3 weeks ago….

  7. Affer permalink
    June 28, 2010 4:50 pm

    “I’m all in favour of separating training from degrees…….Simply calling an apprenticeship a degree, flatters neither course.

    I think we need to think about a smaller university sector; the return of grants for a smaller cohort of students…………..etc etc.

    We mistook education for economic policy; produced more graduates than there were real graduate jobs…etc etc. I think it’s nothing short of a fucking mess and there is no painless way out of it.”

    My political colour is of a rather different hue to yours….but I just could not agree more!!!

  8. Rabelais permalink*
    June 28, 2010 5:26 pm

    Hi Affer,

    I think whatever our political colours there comes a point when the most sensible in the tribe notice that we are digging a great, big fucking hole and they stop. Others though seem wedded to the shovel.

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