By Nick Johnson
The Education system in the United Kingdom is in turmoil. Reports from official organisations such as OFSTED have shown that classes in secondary education are overcrowded, under-staffed and often fail to complete the required syllabus in the allotted time. The trend continues in University education, where even the Russell Group universities have seen a collective decline in the global tables. Why have our standards slipped? Student’s attitudes to university, admission quotas and the emphasis on the wrong remedies by both political parties have all characterised this decline.
Britain’s universities are a heavily understated aspect of her soft power. Our top-class universities such as those within the Russell Group provide Britain with research that makes us top competitors in the intellectual world. Our examples including the great Sir Martin Evans of Cardiff University who discovered and utilised the first stem cell; a revolutionary recovery cell with the potential to cure ailments previously considered incurable. Considering the United Kingdom is now more than ever dependent on her soft power, policy changes made to higher education seem nonsensical from the perspective of a current student.
The press has recently been hot on highlighting the drop of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to fourth and fifth place in the global tables, leaving the top three universities as a US hegemony. At the same time, members of the ‘PC’ press have also been keen on stressing that this is due to the increased stress placed on these students, as they are competing against other top students.
This is fantasy. University students, especially those in Oxbridge and the other Russell Group universities, should be aware that they signed up to further study the topic that they perform the best/enjoy the most. If students cannot cope with the stress of higher education then they should not be given a place in these universities. Indeed, it is prevalent from personal experience. The increasing majority of students in top universities across the UK see the ‘Uni’ experience as something of a holiday camp. Students are becoming misguided in their reasoning for attending university, seeing it mainly as a recreational period rather than one of training, preparation and skills development. Despite this being incredibly contradictory, given that us students are living off government loans and other forms of subsidy that isn’t our own, most of us carry on with this very unsustainable way of life.
But where does this all stem from? One clear reason from my perspective that has not been addressed nearly enough is the admission quotas that these top universities abide to. In the name of equality, diversity and ‘fairness’, Russell Group universities have been forced to admit students from different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions, to prevent a backlash from the media. It really should be in the universities’ best interest to admit the best of the best in their field and maximise the intellectual output of their courses and fields of study. This recommendation only discriminates on students’ mental capabilities.
We are also seeing a resurgence and a threat from the left and their ‘unicorn’ policies, threatening the sanctity of quality higher education. You may think that, as a student, I would be committing economic suicide by going against the ban of tuition fees from Corbyn’s Labour, but the long-term consequences of such a plan have not been highlighted enough. What Labour failed to consider in their educational manifesto pledges is that the banning of tuition fees would have only devastated the volume and quality of education at least within the next five years. Universities, especially those outside the special funding of the Russell Group, heavily depend on the tuition fees by students to maintain research and upkeep costs of their programmes and buildings. Russell Group or not, cutting of this supply of money to all UK universities would greatly decrease research quality, reduce our places in the global charts, disincentivise foreign students arriving to study in the UK, shut down smaller universities and reduce our soft power stance in the intellectual sphere. With the recent general election results clearly emphasising a rise in socialism, and a crumbling Tory stronghold, this threat is looking the most likely it has ever looked before. I too would rather leave university in a relative amount of debt and a higher quality degree so future generations could experience the same, if not, greater quality higher education in the future. Labour’s plans would not make education a right, it would make it non-existent; a ploy to gather more money to fund future stagflation and national debt.
The recent drop in government attention to the Grammar schooling plan has not only shown the weakness of May’s leadership, but also has proven that no party knows the right method to address the worsening education crisis. Grammar schools are the important step, between a state and private school, that enables bright young children who passed their 11 plus to enter a higher quality education platform, giving them a much better chance at succeeding in life. Backtracking on such a plan will inevitably lead to the homogenisation of poor quality state schooling across the country, for more and more middle and working class people. However, this is not the major problem facing secondary and primary schools today. OFSTED has shown us in their surveys that state schools are facing overcrowding at rates that have never been as high before. Current migration levels into the UK, reaching well over 500,000 per annum, can obviously suggest that the influx of new people coming to live in the UK is too much for state schools to cope with. Class sizes reaching an average of 45 students, under-staffed schools and decreasing GCSE grade averages are all indications that school populations are well over their limits. Rising migration from the European Union due to the freedom of movement of labour has meant that the government cannot fully control the level of migrants in the UK. The EU has placed a ticking time bomb at the heart of their wealthiest states and now it is beginning to explode in amazing fashion. Although we have voted to leave the EU, it is up to May to make migration a priority during these negotiations, otherwise, the UK will be forced to make even more drastic decisions when the crisis becomes apparent enough.
As we have seen then, the government, media and university shareholders alike, fail to recognise the underlying issues that are infecting the education system, forcing them to take ineffective measures that run through the ‘PC’ handbook. The government and the people too must stop ignoring the threat that unregulated migration poses to the quality to not only education, but to other departments that are equally affected, such as housing and healthcare. The government is not addressing the problems created by Blair’s “university for all strategy”, and even if they were, it will take a generation for it to be fully solved. However, there is hope. There are calls for more vocational courses and apprentiships, leading to more technical courses and fewer wasted university courses. More middle-spectrum politicians are harking to the ‘white heat’ revolution of the late 60s/early 70s with more funding to universities done by the state, not by private ownership.