21 November 2006

More on remoulding degrees

Further to my earlier post on Gabriel Rozenberg criticising students in The Times for complaining about having to pay for their degrees.

I suggested that turning the university system over to the market, with people having to borrow to finance their degrees, was not necessarily the best outcome, although perhaps unavoidable in a mediocracy. In a mediocracy it cannot be permitted that only a minority get subsidised to develop their intellectual skills. Therefore no one gets subsidised. (There is an intermediate stage in which a lot of people get subsidised, but it doesn't last long since it's not economically viable.) I posted a summary of my comments on the Times website.

Rozenberg replied as follows to readers' comments:

I'm struck by how many of those who disagreed with me think that the answer lies in going back to an elitist concept of higher education for the top 2-5% of the country. My view is that such a system would damage the chances of millions of young people who will need advanced skills to get ahead. ... By calling mass higher education a "mediocracy", Dr. Tassano, you're saying they shouldn't get a chance to succeed.
Actually I didn’t call mass higher education a mediocracy. I said we live in a mediocracy, implying that mediocre standards prevail.

How does criticising the British university system for becoming dumbed down equate with saying people “shouldn’t have a chance”? Rozenberg's comment seems to me to reveal much about the tone of contemporary conservatism. It’s little different from the standard left wing comeback to criticisms of intervention, that “you don’t care about the unfortunate”. If the changes Rozenberg advocates stop clever children who don’t want to get into debt from going to uni, then it’s people like him who are (effectively) denying them a chance.

The claim that “people will need advanced skills to get ahead”, and therefore need to go to college, is pure Blair-speak. Even if it’s true that totally new skills will be needed, where is the supporting argument that what is taught in degrees actually supplies these skills?