Our universities are crying out for reform

A lot of students would do far better going straight to work at 18 instead

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The Independent Online

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, wants to expand the number of students in this country. Sir Roderick Floud, the former president of Universities UK, says that half of our universities should shut down to fix our “messy, muddled” education system. Willetts, perhaps you’d like to give your job to Floud? Higher education has been crying out for reform for ages.

Our current university system does students a great disservice. The fact that graduate unemployment is so high must show that something’s gone terribly wrong. Let’s be honest - there are too many substandard and irrelevant courses. What’s more, not all universities are the same.  It’s disingenuous to put young people in debt on the premise that the qualification they’re struggling to pay for is going to be regarded favourably by employers, because in many cases it won’t be.

A lot of students would do far better going straight to work at 18 instead and having training on the job whilst earning. Who actually needs a degree in playwork? Way back in the day, even professionals like accountants and lawyers went straight into on-the-job training from school. We’ve created a culture where not going to university isn’t seen as an option. Actually, a lot of young people would quite like to be out there in the world, getting trained whilst earning money, instead of forking out for university with no guarantee of a job at the end of it.

So here are my ideas for reform. Let’s get rigorous on-the-job training and apprenticeships in action wherever we can and promote that as a real option for building a future. Then let’s have a maximum of thirty universities offering carefully selected, tightly regulated, first-class qualifications that offer a real chance of a future afterwards.

By reducing the amount of universities and courses, better quality control can be conducted on those remaining so those students and employers will know they’re getting something worthwhile. Plus, we’d be saving a boatload of public money, so we could scrap tuition fees as well as funding apprenticeships. Heck, we could even start giving students housing grants again, so that bright students could attend university whatever their financial circumstances.

Or we could continue to flood the broken system, put more young people in debt unnecessarily and waste more time and money overall. Up to you, Willetts.