steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

When You are Up You are Up

The OECD has produced another gloomy report on the state of British higher eduction, I see. According to the BBC, for example, we are doing very poorly by comparison with our Nordic neighbours: "Finland has the highest graduation rate among young people - 46% of men and 80% women - compared with 30% of men and 40% of women in the UK."

But wait! What were those Finnish figures again? 46% of men and 80% women graduating? My Finnophilia notwithstanding, are these really figures to be envious of? First - note the huge differential between men and women. If those figures were repeated in this country, there'd be panic in the streets. (Whether it has anything to do with the Finns' sexist policy on National Service, under which men but not women are obliged to join the military for a minimum of nine months, I don't know, but I'd imagine that breaking your education for that length of time can only make it less likely that you'll continue it afterwards.)

Then again, even in a society that's far less focused on manual skills and labour than in the past, does the country really require 80% of its citizens to be graduates? Are there graduate-level jobs available for all of them? Do 80% want to stay on at university anyway - or would they, if the alternatives hadn't acquired a kind of stigma? The BBC also notes that "the report... shows that about one in four graduates in the UK take non-graduate jobs". How do we get from there to the conclusion that the economy needs more graduates?

Behind the BBC's reporting ("UK Slipping Down Graduate League", etc) there seems to lie an assumption that the nearer you get to 100% university attendance the better. I see no reason to believe this, any more than I think 100% of young people should be trained as joiners or mechanics, useful and interesting as the skills involved undoubtedly are. I wonder when this idea gained such currency? I can't help but see it as a kind of twisted elitism disguised as its opposite - a feeling that university is the only really worthwhile way to spend one's late teens and early twenties - because, after all, you know, that's what we did.
Tags: maunderings, work
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