Tuesday, 11 June 2013
It's Nothing To Do With Money
You may recognise this man but I doubt if you know what he's doing these days.
In case you don't know I'll put you out of your misery - or perhaps intensify it.
He's the former Labour minister Alan Milburn and he now chairman of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. This is a set-up which monitors the government. I thought we paid for the House of Lords to do that.
Anyway, Mr Milburn was in Glasgow yesterday giving a speech to Springburn Academy in Glasgow. He said Scotland's universities must 'redouble their efforts on widening access'. Another quote is 'there is a long way to go before higher education was representative of wider society'.
According to Mr Milburn:
“Today, the most advantaged 20 per cent of young people are still seven times more likely to attend university as the 40 per cent most disadvantaged.
Why do politicians always blame universities? If I remember correctly politicians were fundamental is destroying a solid provision of further education colleges which offered a wide range of subjects. Now all that's available for young people are full-time courses, unless they are fortunate enough to be on a recognised apprenticeship.
Not all young people are capable of studying full-time or even have the desire to do so. For some further education just means a continuation of their school days and they want to leave these days far behind.
Of course youngsters from more financially sound families will have easier 'access' to a university. The greatest cost is accommodation and food and if parents can't afford to help then the young person's choice of university is very limited. I know a couple of now 30-somethings who still feel guilty about having complained about having to live with their parents while they studied at a local university. They now realise the sacrifices their parents made by having them live there for another 4 years without contributing to the household income.
So is it the fault of universities that those from less well off backgrounds are not taking up places? No. As far as I'm aware most universities offer bursaries to those with ability. It's up to schools to ensure that their able pupils have the necessary information.
What about those who don't want to attend full-time courses?
We should reintroduce vocational colleges which offer part-time study. Too often we hear employers complaining about the basic standards of literacy and numeracy in school leavers today, so vocational colleges could provide tuition in the basic subjects but associated with a subject which is of interest to the young person.
Unfortunately, in the past 20 years, we have developed a 'degree' culture and this further divides society. Most of the young people I know say their degree subject is of little or no use in their work, but think the fact they had a degree got them their job.
I'm a great supporter of further education - in fact I think it should last a lifetime - but we have to stop accusing those who don't attend university as being inferior to those who do. That's where the problem lies as it has done since I was born (and long before too).
In Scotland university tuition fees are paid for by the taxpayer and this should ensure any person who has the ability to go on to university does so. If we built quality vocational colleges which offered practical courses in most areas of engineering, building, specific sciences etc., then we may just be able to retain skills which are rapidly disappearing.
The biggest challenge of all is to gain the interest of the young person and instil a sense of self-discipline and self-belief into them. Too many leave school without these and that's why they feel unable/unwilling to go on to further education. It's nothing to do with money.