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