There seems to be another protest about tuition fees. "Students" are this time targeting the Glib Dems, and Clegg in particular. Nevermind that this ad hoc movement has been infiltrated by the usual suspects, never mind that one has pleaded guilty to throwing a fire extinguisher from the top of the Millbank Tower into a crowd of policemen, it is all, essentially irrelevant. In the case of the hooliganism, it should be terminated with extreme prejudice, and the perps denied the privilege of further education.

How did we get here? We got into this because nowadays, everybody is a student. My hairdresser went to University. Apparently.You can do Golf Management Studies, Equine Psychology, Celebrity Journalism and a raft of mickey mouse stuff.  This is all because of a warped political doctrine. Labour cried "Education, Education, Education" but it didn't really know what that meant. Indeed, as we now know, it was just something dreamed up by speech writers. There was a vague notion that you could put everyone through three years of something and turn out useful drones. Well, it ain't like that, is it? What it has done is to lower the bar in order to take people on who really have no place in higher education. Not only that, it has added massively to the higher education bill. The money had to come from somewhere. In the days when I got a full grant, probably less than ten per cent of the population went to college.

Anybody who has to wade through essays of plagiarised drivel at tertiary level knows how ill-prepared and unsuitable some students are. It is not that I am against education for all, what I find absurd is the idea that a faux university degree is going to solve a skills problem.

Of course, the reasons we are now facing these silly riots is that our rulers created unrealistic expectations about the extent to which the state would give us free everything for everybody. People have a sense of entitlement they are not entitled to. It is the logical outcome of taking the concept of "rights" to its conclusion.

So, what is the alternative? There is one, and that is to return to bound apprenticeships, in partnership with industry.

The idea is that you enter a contract with an employer who gets a tax break for taking on apprentices. There would be a three month settling in period when the arrangement can be terminated on either side. Thereafter, both employer and employee are bound for a period of years. It would need to be regulated and firms would be accredited, but that is no different to course accreditation. Should the student apprentice leave before completion, he or she would be liable to pay the cost of their education to date. Should the employer terminate without good reason, they would be liable to pay back tax.

The point of the apprenticeship scheme is to prepare people for life, not buggering about. The world of work is often a shock to people who do not get out of bed before lunch, as Young Weasel has discovered recently. (He has never been late). Work is not just about skills, it is about integrating and pulling your weight as a member of society. It also politicises people, usually in a good way, for they become a lot less generous about scroungers.

So, what I am calling for is the reduction of mass university places and the introduction of bound apprenticeships. It is a massive task. It needs to be structured very carefully, but it could be done. If nothing else, it would ensure that young people take ownership of what are their natural responsibilities.


This is how it could work:

  • A national apprenticeship accreditation and regulation body, made up of academics and business people.
  • An apprentice mentor in larger firms, whose job it would be to maintain standards and design courses.
  • Peripatetic mentors for small firms.
  • Guild membership for successful candidates
  • Cost neutral for employers. (There is a kudos payback in terms of enhancing the public identity of firms who take part)
  • Day release college places where appropriate.
  • A journeyman scheme, whereby those who have completed or nearly completed their apprenticeship can transfer to other firms.
  • Penalties on both sides for defaulters.
  • Tax concessions for newly graduated apprentices and employers.
  • A prestige scheme with tough criteria
The guiding principle of bound apprenticeships should be to create pride and commitment in the aquisition of a proper skill (including life skills) and a recognition of this commitment by industry.


Ruth@VS said...

I'm with you on this. Like you, I went to university when it was a minority activity. But I then went into a career where my degree was useless (it was the recession and I needed a job, any job) so I worked my way up from an entry level job to HR director level. What I realised over the years was that the universities were now churning out people with qualifications where they expected to enter the profession at manager level. Almost without exception, they were poor at the job - no real work experience, no management experience and then they were expected to advise other managers on what to do. And that's the problem with a lot of our workfoce these days. There's no substitute for learning on the job.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Ruth, I wonder if your erstwhile peers agree? It would take some consent and consensus to allow the idea to fly.

Richard said...

@WW - agreed about the degree nonsense. You and I obviously went about the same time. Both my parents were working, so I got the minumum grant of £50 per year. M&P had to find the other £255, but if they couldn't I would have had a full grant. That's something I have always been grateful for, but as you say it was a time when only 10% went to Uni, and the nation could afford it. Blair's great mistake was to think that he could increase University attendance to 50% without a) dumbing down the additional courses, as the quality of the cohort would inevitable be less, and b) thinking that the state could afford to pay for 50% of its young people to sit on their arses for 3 years on the taxpayer dollar. I have been in favour of the idea of apprenticeships for a long while, although I haven't thought through the implications as thoroughly as you have. Good post.

@Ruth - I was part of a team trying to recruit ~400 people a couple of years ago, and I found exactly the same: people who would mark their application 'management position', but when you dug down they were raw graduates with no experience and nothing to offer except a sense of entitlement. One of my interview questions was "given that you have left University and this would be your first job, how do you think you will manage organising a team of people who have been doing it 20 years?" The answer was either some fatuous and empty remark about leadership, or a stunned silence.

Ruth@VS said...

WW - unfortunately my former profession is captive to these "qualified" people with a jobs for the boys qualification and association, so no. Another reason not to be in the job. Interestingly, the head of HR at (I think) Barclays made a similar comment just the other day on the lack of quality people in the profession. But when the bulk of the people doing the job think they're great... well, you get the picture.
Richard - I agree with every word! Spot on.