UK Politics … about leadership and higher education

A few weeks ago I was visited by two political activists from the LibDems. They turned out to be two of our local councilors. I gave them my usual response;

"The best thing we can do with our politicians, is take them down to the sea and drown the lot of them."

The elder of the two beat a hasty retreat while the younger was prepared to try and discuss, so I invited him in and let him look at my blog about UK political parties.

A few days later, on my way home from the local market, I met him doing his rounds with another activist, obviously he has ambitions of going beyond the local council, We stopped and chatted a bit more and he told me he had voted to remove Nick Clegg from the leadership of the party  to which I responded that I did not think Nick Clegg bad, either as a person or a leader. He also told me he was very disappointed in the giving in over University Tuition fees in the coalition agreement.

By it's very nature, coalition is about compromise and reaching a consensus. Not easily accepted in the UK where politics is about power, "what I say goes". European politics is more about consensus and bridge building. I think Nigel Clegg has more leadership than David Cameron and would be more likely to achieve compromise with EU. We may as well start preparing for our exit from Europe.

I believe that a good leader is one who does not bend to the media but is prepared to put up the difficult arguments. When politics descends down to the level of popularity or beauty contests we deserve what we get as the media will bend our minds … it would be much better to have thoughtful politicians who are able to think beyond a tweet or headline and see the underlying truth or issues.

The issue of Tuition Fees did make me try and exercise my mind.

Firstly the increase in fees from £3000 to £9000 was brought in to counterbalance a reduction in the amount coming out of the exchequer to universities. It was a way of 'so called' reducing government deficit. Put another way it was a way of printing money! It would seem right that the beneficiaries of the education should pay for the benefit they have received. I am however not sure that, that is right. Let us consider a moment.

What is the purpose of higher education?

To provide the economy with people having knowledge and skills to enter the work place and create growth.

Surely the real beneficiary is the economy as a whole? Or more simply the taxpayer!

On thinking about this, in the context of the past Labour government's drive to increase the percentage of school leavers entering University from around 25% to 50% (a way of reducing the impact of school leavers on unemployment statistics)., I came to the conclusion that many of the degrees being offered would in no way enhance the earning capacity of the increased number of graduates. That in probability between 30 and 40% would end up never having to repay the loans!

Recent statistics suggest that there is a black hole developing equal to around 45p in the pound in respect of the student loans that are not going to be repaid!

So let us look at an alternative;

Since we don't in the short term want to call the money being spent on higher education as part of government deficit let us rather call it a loan to the Universities!

This to be repaid out of future fees to be paid to the universities by the government based on an algorithm that measures the contribution to the economy of their students over a ten year period after leaving University. This algorithm could take into account the demographic diversity of their intake, the proportion of students studying humanities (where their future income is likely to be lower than the doctors and engineers) and the amount that their incomes exceed either the median or mean of the incomes of the whole population group.

This would result in Universities adapting their courses to meet the needs of the economy (we often hear industry complaining that there are insufficient graduates with the qualifications they are looking for). We would probably see the Universities getting more closely involved in creating incubator businesses, possibly out of their own research rather than simply selling off patents, so that they have some certainty of students being placed. Those that don't succeed in creating graduates needed in the economy will ultimately fail.

This would bring us more closely in line with countries like Holland, where every student has free higher education provided he passes each year! I think the Dutch model says that if a student fails his education fees become a loan which he has to repay over time.

Obviously, lots of wrinkles like the length of time the student has lived in the country need to be considered, but it does provide the basis of developing a different model.

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