Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sub-prime students

Your humble Devil appears to be a fixture on various low-rent media lists and, as such, receives a large number of unwarranted but occasionally hilarious press releases. Today's little gem is from UCL Occupation"students occupying University College London in protest at fee rises and cuts".
At 2pm on Monday 21st March students occupied the UCL registry, the main administrative wing of the university. We stand against all cuts and for free education.

We are occupying in solidarity with our lecturers and support staff who are taking part in the UCU strike to defend their jobs, pay and pensions. We as students are taking the direct action denied to our lecturers by anti-union legislation.

UCL management are meeting on Thursday 24th to decide whether to increase tuition fees—we call on UCL management to not raise tuition fees and to lobby against the government cuts.

Management will also discuss the restructuring and outsourcing of estates and facilities. We stand in solidarity with the staff whose jobs and wages are threatened, and continue to demand the London Living Wage.

We call for no repercussions or victimization...

I'm sorry—what? Oh, do you mean "victimisation"?

Well, can I suggest that you capable little intellectuals either learn how to spell your own language, or use those colossal brains of yours to figure out how to switch your MS Word Dictionary to "British English" or "International English"?
... of any students or staff involved in industrial action and associated protests.

We hope that the UCU strike and the nationwide university occupations it has inspired encourage a wave of strikes, occupations and protests leading up to the March 26th national anti-cuts demonstration and beyond. We are all in this together.

Naturally, I sent a reply to these eager little revolutionaries; I thought it best to keep it short and sweet...
We are all in this together.

Um. No we're not. You want me to pay for your education through my taxes, even though the greatest beneficiary of your education will be you.

You want something that's going to benefit you?—you pay for it.

Regards,

DK

Do you think that they'll be able to decipher that message?

Ever since I read Nick M's post at Counting Cats, I have been considering the following proposition: subsidising students is, in fact, utterly sub-prime—where sub-prime is defined as laying out a considerable sum of money which you have almost no chance of recouping.

This is especially true when such a large proportion of the population now goes to university; how many of those who go to university will ever repay their student loan—let alone contribute enough tax over their lifetime to repay the taxpayer for the rest of the cost?

I reckon that the proportion is pretty small, frankly.

Some people would say that society benefits from having an educated workforce: that may be true, but does society benefit over and above what it costs to pay for these people?

If students are unwilling to pay £9,000 per year in fees, then I think that we could easily conclude that said degree is not worth £9k to the prime beneficiary of this education—what is it worth to those of us who currently have to pay?

So, no: we aren't in this together, frankly.

UPDATE: in the comments, the Fat Bigot makes the point rather more eloquently than I could, rushed as I was...
On the substantive point it's worth observing twenty-odd years ago the student grant scheme was workable and affordable because, generally speaking, there was a pretty good chance that the recipient would pay it back in spades through taxes during his or her working life.

There are only so many people for whom university education can add value. That many jobs now require a degree is a reflection of the fact that degrees from many institutions are seen as the modern equivalent of A-levels.

The lower you set the bar for university entrance, the less likely it is that the additional students (that is, those who get in now but wouldn't have got in when entrance standards were higher) will be net (or you might prefer "nett" [I do—DK]) contributors to the public coffers.

Once the bar is lower you either have a two-tier system of funding whereby the best get tax-funded support and the lesser qualified do not, or you have the same system for everyone. Practical politics requires the same system for everyone. What you cannot have is everyone being paid by taxpayers because
  1. there are too many of them for it to be affordable and

  2. only relatively few are of the quality that will repay the gift with a profit for future generations of taxpayers.

This is all basic common sense. Unless you believe in the magic money tree, of course.

Quite.

10 comments:

Gary said...

yeah but no but yeah...

The prime beneficiary of a university education is undoubtedly the student, but I think it is commonly understood that their are positive externalities (graduates have higher marginal productivity, are more likely to create jobs for others, etc).

We should therefore subsidise that education to capture those positive externalities. Not fund the whole f'ing lot mind you, which is what they are asking for, but subsidise it somewhat.

Anonymous said...

It is subsidized somewhat already, through low interest rate student loans, which they then pay back, so nothing further is required except they get part-time jobs as has every other generation of students done while working their way through university.

As for what they do when they get out, if it's just to occupy space in a government or government related job, such as fake-charity, then they'll do nothing to contribute to society except leach off the taxpayer once they get out while adding to the already burdensome bureaucracy, which is already more than we can afford, the country being in debt and all.

Everytime the lefties cry "revolution" all it is is a selfish demand for more money and benefits handed over and with no responsibilities on their end handing anything back.

Drop all further subsidies, let them kick and moan, let them burn the buildings down in rage, then if any want university education after taking their little "revolution" to the extreme they would take it, let them pay to build it back again out of private monies of the teachers and staff who also encourage and engage in this thievery from taxpayers.

I'm tired of paying and paying but never receiving and I'm not a sponger like these students, paid my own way through university and so can anyone else who earnestly wants an education and is willing to work for it.

Felix said...

Rather embarrassingly someone I know is involved in said occupation.

Still don't know what the fuss is about - you want something which will increase your earning power dramatically yet aren't willing to pay for it. Sounds very 'selfish' to me.

PS: might we also see a post on the budget tomorrow. Might be quite good apart from the sin taxes that are sure to go up

TheFatBigot said...

We shouldn;t be too quick with the "zation" / "sation" thing, Mr Kitchen. Not so long ago (I mean within my adult lifetime) the zed was preferred here and the ess across the pond.

On the substantive point it's worth observing twenty-odd years ago the student grant scheme was workable and affordable because, generally speaking, there was a pretty good chance that the recipient would pay it back in spades through taxes during his or her working life.

There are only so many people for whom university education can add value. That many jobs now require a degree is a reflection of the fact that degrees from many institutions are seen as the modern equivalent of A-levels.

The lower you set the bar for university entrance, the less likely it is that the additional students (that is, those who get in now but wouldn't have got in when entrance standards were higher) will be net (or you might prefer "nett") contributors to the public coffers.

Once the bar is lower you either have a two-tier system of funding whereby the best get tax-funded support and the lesser qualified do not, or you have the same system for everyone. Practical politics requires the same system for everyone. What you cannot have is everyone being paid by taxpayers because (i) there are too many of them for it to be affordable and (ii) only relatively few are of the quality that will repay the gift with a profit for future generations of taxpayers.

This is all basic common sense. Unless you believe in the magic money tree, of course.

JuliaM said...

"There are only so many people for whom university education can add value. "

THIS!

Suboptimal Planet said...

"We shouldn;t be too quick with the "zation" / "sation" thing,"

I'm with TheFatBigot on this one.

Daniel Hannan wrote an article about this recently.

Let me finish on a positive note. In my own lifetime, there has been a comprehensive shift in Britain towards “ise” instead of “ize” in such words as, well, Americanize. You can see why it has happened: using both forms means having to remember which words can only be written with “ise”; but using “ise” is never wrong. None the less, it can be clumsy, and the OED has always preferred to maintain the distinction. The movement towards “ise” seems now to have reached its limit and, under the influence of American software, we are starting to return to the form that our grandparents regarded as correct.

Opening a random page of His Last Bow, I find "so compromising an article" and "recognized its importance".

That aside, great article!

CIngram said...

In defence of my alma mater, can I point out that UCL is a very good university and that the people who run the students' union have alway been a bunch of snotty, self-righteous Trots, who sat around whining to each other about ideological purity. Everyone else ignored them and got on with learning things (and drinking subsidized beer, of course).

Umbongo said...

When I was a student at the University of Chicago in 1969, there was a student occupation of the Administrative Building (from which the university was run) protesting about a decision of the Department of Sociology not to reappoint some fifth rate lefty (natch!) lecturer. The university was run from the president's apartment and there was, effectively, no noticable change in the smooth running of the campus.

The president, after issuing an ultimatum which stated that the students involved would suffer adverse consequences from the university unless they left the Admin Building pronto, let the occupiers wither on the vine and, about 2 weeks after it started, the occupation collapsed. Subsequently the university expelled about 40 of the occupiers and 80 more were suspended, to the (almost) general approbation of the university community. Funnily enough the university was never troubled by this kind of juvenilia again.

The same could and should be done at UCL. It would be a dose of reality which the parasites involved (and their fellow parasites elsewhere) might find salutary.

Anonymous said...

"I think it is commonly understood that their are positive externalities (graduates have higher marginal productivity, are more likely to create jobs for others, etc). "


Have you seen what people are actually learning in university? Sorry to say, driving a cab for five years would probably give you a better education than whatever crap you pick up in a university now. Running a shop selling widgets or sitting on the board of the local nursing home or whatever would too.

Mills said...

Am terribly heartened to see that CIngram has left almost exactly the same comment that I was about to, in particularly, stressing, in favour of the students, the twin goals of learning stuff and getting pissed every evening.

My second point has also already been made by the Fat Bigot, viz. the -ise / ize controversy. Not only was I going to sound the same note of caution, I also - spooky, eh - am a bit overweight, though I try to confine bigotry to weekends and other special occasions.

To give some added value to this admittedly otherwise redundant comment, I would add to the last point that, while I was always brought up to use -ise, and have never really shaken the habit, the editors of the OED, and, perhaps more importantly, Colin Dexter, recommend -ize. It's to do with the natural way of transliterating from the Greek zeta.

On the substantive point, I am less committed to libertarianism than the Devil, and so would love it if there were a benevolent and wise government that subsidized (remembered to do it) university education. I would expect it to do so extremely selectively, allowing only the brightest few to go to universities which one could be confident would choose the right people and would teach them important things well. Such important things would include classics, philosophy, history, languages, (good) literature, maths, (proper) science, law, economics, and related disciplines, such as Politics and Assyriology. There would also be a free market in other forms of further / higher education so that people who wanted to do degrees in Women's Studies, and Drama with Childcare would be free to do so if they could pay what it actually cost.

I suspect also that secretly a lot of the people who make the case for tuition fees would prefer such a system. But they are realistic enough, as am I, to see that it is not going to happen, and so settle for the next best thing. Sad really, given that we did have such a system for a while, and it really did work until it got fucked up.