The mess that is Higher Education in the UK

by reestheskin on 24/11/2016

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This —‘Remaking Tertiary Education’ — is a terrific read. The report’s author Alison Wolf, asks: “How did we get to where we are? The obvious answer is ‘Government funded it this way’ and of course that is correct.” But the UK Higher Ed community was cheering all the way. £££££££.

I first came across Alison Wolf, reading her book ‘Does Education Matter?’ a few years back. The answer is, of course, much more nuanced than the many providers like to think. The most recent report points out that the current direction of travel is unsustainable, and that the students and tax payer are accumulating large debts. Once you have the blank cheque tax-payer-backed scheme, providers will expand and expand, with little end in sight ( tip: a marker of quality for UK universities is finding an institution that is not trying to expand undergraduate numbers). This was all pointed out at the time, but was buried under the trope of ‘education, education, education’. What Wolf has been right about for a long time is how the expansion of the historical 3/4 year degree level course has been to the detriment of technical education. And the needs of the population.

The graph below gives you some idea of what has happened, and there are two figures that should accompany it:

  • The contribution of student loans to net government debt is forecast to rise from around 4 per cent of GDP today to over 11 per cent in 2040.
  • 30 per cent of the English workforce being overqualified for their role, compared with an OECD average of 22 per cent. (quoted here).




This is a massive bubble, not in learning, or producing rounded citizens, but in certification. And it is evident not just at Bachelor’s level. UK Higher education 3/4 year degrees need to be cut drastically.