There’s mortar education than university

There’s mortar education than university

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, author of the catchphrase ‘education, education, education’, has waded into this debate again as he pauses from his globe-trotting.

During his premiership, he made it a policy to have 50 per cent of young people attend university – a wrong-headed ambition in my view.

That figure has now been achieved, but it has not satisfied the obsessive Blair who now wants 70 per cent of children to go to university.

He claims it is key to the UK competing with ‘high-innovation economies’ such as South Korea and Japan. Bunkum!

He is ignoring the academic bell curve which indicates that only people with higher IQ scores should seek a university education.

This is not a perfect measurement as it only attempts to measure one kind of intelligence, but it is a useful guideline.

The bell curve only puts around 15 per cent of the population in the very high bracket for critical thinking skills and claims that around 50 per cent are above average.

However, to benefit from a highly academic education it is not sufficient to be just above average.

I would say we could add around another 10-15 per cent to the original 15 per cent of people.

This means there are around 30 per cent of the population that will benefit from an academic education – at most.

Germany sends around 30 per cent of its young people to university and the rest train vocationally.

The UK needs to provide the right kind of education for young people.

Vocational training and expertise is not second best – for most people, it is the best.

Universities should focus on the developing of critical thinking skills.

This is done through essay writing, research and bookish pursuit.

Germany still has a large manufacturing base because it does not forget or demean people who should not pursue this route.

In my experience as a university lecturer, I came across many students for whom an academic degree was not the best option.

They were struggling to perform to the academic standards required and the temptation for universities is to lower their expectation of students and make degrees easier and less demanding.

This is undoubtedly the case and some of the university degree courses being offered make it clear.

Currently, A’ Level students can pick courses including ‘creative writing’, ‘fashion’ and ‘film and media’.

Furthermore, the graduate job market can only sustain so many mortar-board wearing young people.

One of the traditional benefits of a university education was that it led to jobs with better-than-average salaries. But this advantage is being watered down as more and more people attend.

Rather than allowing us to compete with economies such as South Korea, as Blair claims, the ‘send all to uni’ policy is likely to make us look like a third world country in which highly qualified people have to drive taxis or work on building sites because there are not enough graduate jobs.

Graduates are also burdened with a large debt they will have to pay back should their salaries ever reach a certain level.

Vocational education can be equally challenging but in different ways. It requires the practical application of skillsets learned in respectable institutions that seek to educate their students to very high standards.

Admittedly, there is a crossover between many academic/critical thinking skills and practical vocational skillsets but there are distinctions too.

The ‘head’ and ‘hands’ analogy is simplistic, but we must ask which direction students should be guided towards – academic or vocational.

Blair’s idea ignores the make-up of the population.

He led us down the wrong road before on this and instead of recognising the mistake has doubled down on it.