University drop-outs are cleverer than you might think

OUR YOUNG people aren't daft. Between 18 and 25 per cent of them fail to finish their university and college courses. They vote with their feet. The figures vary depending on which newspaper you read, but all are based on statistics recently issued by the Higher Education Funding Council which, by discreet management of the money it doles out, controls the numbers, the standards, and the quality of the college education our young people receive.

Its powers are immense. It seems to those at the receiving end, as they bid for students and money in competition with other institutions, both Machiavellian and Kafkaesque. It, and its predecessors - different names, same principle (that is to say Doler Out Of Money - or DOOM) have quietly presided over the extraordinary inflation of higher education in the last 40 years. Then, it was 12.5 per cent of our young; now it is 40 per cent, and is likely to rise to 50 per cent. The HEFC has managed this without any kind of concomitant rise in the money it itself receives. Where once the taxpayer paid for the education of the 12.5 per cent, which it could well afford, now parents of the 40 per cent are expected to contribute, the young to borrow, and the taxpayer to sop up the surplus. Standards have slumped, the young are crowded into over-large, over-administrated and underfunded institutions, and the drop-out rate - though heaven knows how these figures are come by - already costs taxpayers pounds 200m a year.

Those who drop out in the first term are not even counted. They are myriad; they have been hand-held through the complexities of their Ucas forms, got to the university "of their choice" - well, second or third choice, or "Clearing" - then found themselves presented with the free-for-all mayhem of registration week and just got the hell out of there.

The 50 per cent ambition is too great, too high, too soon, too inflated. The expansion of higher education must stop now, while we all have a breather, and contemplate whether education, education, education is all it's cracked up to be.

The trouble with inflation is that it's catching. It applies to grades as well as numbers. The more students the university can squash in, the more funds it attracts - so long as standards are maintained. The funding councils and vice-chancellors will swear that standards haven't dropped, and so far as they can see they haven't. But kindly teachers throughout the system are marking up, inflating grades to what they think the student is capable of, not what the wretched, under-taught creature has really achieved. At the bustling University of the West of England (once Bristol Tech - but that's another story, of the punishing of our older universities for their academic insolence), where in 1985 seminars used to be four hours per term per student per subject and eight to 15 per group (bad enough), they are now down to one 50-minute hour per student per subject per term, 20 to 30 per group, and referred to as "student contact time". ("Seminar" sounds too poncy.) The situation distresses administrators, lecturers and students alike, but what is to be done?

Employ lower-qualified "part-time" lecturers and save money. ("Part-time" is a misnomer; part-time staff often put in more teaching hours than full- time people, but don't get holiday or sick pay.) This gain must be weighed against the extra funding a college gets if highly qualified staff "publish" - never mind the quality, feel the width - but this keeps them out of teaching. Accept students from the three lowest social classes and get a bonus - but be penalised for a higher drop-out rate. The students, at the wrong end of everything, expecting "involvement" and finding only chaos, without books or teaching packs, reduced to spending long hours photo-copying in the library, running up a debt to the state, drown their sorrows in the bar or vote with their feet. Out of there.

Thirty years ago the wealth or background of parents made little difference to a pupil's attainment; the whole education system was devised to pick out the 12.5 per cent "elite", those academically inclined. Now, according to the report, social class means everything. Students from working-class homes are most likely to have low A-level scores and those with lowest A-level scores are most likely to drop out. Of course; it's those post- codes again. If you get low A-level scores you're not likely to get a first or a two-one, which is what employers now demand (their ambitions, too, having been inflated). More failure, more humiliation, more ignominy.

"Young people from wealthy areas are more than 10 times more likely to enter higher education than those from the poorest neighbourhoods," says Sir Brian Fender, of the HEFC for England. Well, of course. Maybe the socially excluded are just 10 times more realistic than their middle- class compatriots. The wishful, and expensive, thinking of governments is that all children are born academically equal, and that if they don't read by seven and get degrees at 23, it can only be the fault of the teachers, lecturers and institutions, and nothing to do with the nature of the species. The children, simply looking round the classroom, know better, and make proper judgements as to how their lives are going. Just let's get out of here, fast.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor