Realistic utopianism for 20-year olds

by John Quiggin on December 15, 2010

Looking at the debate over UK protests over the tripling of tuition fees, it seems to me that this is an occasion where realistic utopianism (I’m paraphrasing Erik Olin Wright here) is needed, and is currently in short supply. The present ways in which modern societies determine the life choices available to 20 year olds are unsatisfactory and inequitable, and the British system is (or seems from a distance) to be more inequitable than many, perhaps most. So, defending that system against change, even change that will make things worse, is difficult and problematic. Rather than ask what incremental reforms might make things better, it seems like a good idea to ask how we might design a set of institutions from scratch, and then think about the implications for existing systems.

My starting point is that, in a modern society and economy, nearly everyone needs to finish high school and the great majority need further education (academic, professional/technical or vocational) beyond that, if they are to thrive and prosper. So, rather than thinking about universities as the destination of a select few, and then about various second-best alternatives for others, we should be starting from the view of post-secondary education as a universal service like school education or health services. That does not mean that everyone should get the same post-secondary education (any more than everyone should get the same health services), but it does mean a presumption that everyone should have access to educational resources of similar quality.

That’s radically different from a system where historically-determined differences in endowments and funding drive massive inequality in resources which in turn produce and perpetuate inequality in outcomes. This inequality is most evident in the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge graduates among the elite[1], but it is replicated all the way down the higher education hierarchy.

Producing a universal system would entail a substantial shift in resources over a long period towards social groups and regions that have been poorly served in the past. It would I think (though there are plenty of cultural subtleties here to which I’m not attuned) ultimately imply an end to the presumption that university is somewhere you go away to, and its replacement with a presumption that high-quality education at all levels is something that should be available wherever you live.

If we have a universal or near-universal system, it’s natural to start on the basis of funding through the tax system. Things aren’t quite so easy in the more realistic case where a majority get post-school education, but a minority do not. Here, there are various options for avoiding the inequitable outcome where the minority (probably poorer on average) pay for benefits they don’t receive. One is the set of ideas that have been canvassed in the current debate, including graduate taxes, income-contingent loans and so on.

The alternative is some version of the proposal put forward by Anne Alstott and Bruce Ackerman in the US a while back of making a universal grant, available to everyone at age 20. I’m inclined to a somewhat more paternalistic view than their suggestion of a no-strings grant (partly from considerations of political realism, to which utopians should pay attention, I think). I’d prefer to limit the use of the grant to a range of purposes that are likely to yield life benefits (education, buying a house, starting a small business) and, until it was used, invest it and give the beneficiaries the proceeds every year.

As in all my attempts along this line, the point is not so much to specify the policy-wonk details as to press the need for a renewed transformative vision on the left.

fn1. The UK system is notable, like the US (Ivy League) and France (Grandes Ecoles) for the existence of a set of elite institutions serving a tiny fraction of the population. Other systems (for example Australia’s) have a hierarchy, but without this top level. I’m not well-informed enough to say which pattern prevails elsewhere, but Wikipedia suggests that Germany may be trying to replace a relatively egalitarian system with one more focused on excellence. I hope German and other non-Anglo readers can give some better information.

{ 169 comments }

1

Phil 12.15.10 at 8:50 am

What interests me is that we never heard a whisper of the whole why should we pay for them? discourse while university education was publicly-funded, in which period it was also the privilege of a small minority. Post-Browne, the expansion of higher education is likely to go in reverse while its privatisation gallops ahead, but pre-Browne both trends were advancing together and promoted by the same people. This makes me think there’s something spurious about the problem as you’ve stated it.

A first step would be to distinguish between distributive and allocative justice. Is it a problem that some people benefit much more than others from government spending? In that case the arguments could be endless – should we withdraw therapeutic and educational facilities from prisoners, so that convicted burglars and wife-beaters don’t have opportunities denied to the unconvicted? Or is the problem that some groups predictably get the lion’s share of whatever’s going?

2

armando 12.15.10 at 8:51 am

My somewhat utopian idea would be similar to what you suggest and give everyone an educational credit at the age of 18 which would then be redeemed in a variety of ways at any time throughout the person’s life including university education, paid for by general taxation. It should work with some guarantee of equal value of alternatives with higher education probably being the measure as the most costly alternative.

The point is that one cannot in good faith talk about social justice in higher education in the UK without admitting the problems that run through the whole schooling system and the middle class, post code, school hopping phenomenon. I doubt that will change any time soon, yet I agree there is something to be gained if we have a broad based, though not identical, education beyond 18.

3

engels 12.15.10 at 9:15 am

‘the minority (probably poorer on average) pay for benefits they don’t receive’

What do you mean by this?

4

Tim Worstall 12.15.10 at 9:27 am

“My starting point is that, in a modern society and economy, nearly everyone needs to finish high school and the great majority need further education beyond that, if they are to thrive and prosper.”

That’s the assumption that needs to be tested. Is it really true that the majority of the population (or even age cohort) need some form of tertiary education?

More specifically, is it true that said majority need to be attending a place of education in order to gain whatever skills might be desirable?

It’s not all that long ago (certainly within my adult lifetime) that no degree was required to qualify as either an accountant or solicitor (all a degree did give you, other than that mind widening etc, was a free pass through some of the professional courses/exams), you could go off to work as a trainee and take your professional exams while working (articles in the law, might be the same word in accounting).

Sure, there’s the intellect expanding university thing (plus three years of boozing and shagging) but if we already agree that not everyone needs or wants straight academic training, why should those who need or want vocational training be fed through institutions more suited to the academic type?

OK, perhaps a blog populated by academics might not be the very best place to ask that question…..

5

Phil Ruse 12.15.10 at 9:35 am

Shouldn’t we be asking whether such universal systems ‘work’? For example, the UK has spent billions in the early education “Sure Start” system – but to what affect?

6

Myles SG 12.15.10 at 9:38 am

It would I think (though there are plenty of cultural subtleties here to which I’m not attuned) ultimately imply an end to the presumption that university is somewhere you go away to, and its replacement with a presumption that hihg-quality education at all levels is something that should be available wherever you live.

I’m sorry, Prof Quiggin, but I am pretty sure university being a place to which you “go away” for several years a non-negotiable, basic, fundamental pre-condition. Without such a condition it is not a university, but rather a series of classrooms.

Pretty much every single attempt I have ever heard of to produce commuter universities have usually either ended up in miserable failure or bone-crushing mediocrity. The thing is bloody not on, as far as anyone actually going to university is concerned.

Bloody not on.

7

John Quiggin 12.15.10 at 9:38 am

“why should those who need or want vocational training be fed through institutions more suited to the academic type?”

They shouldn’t. I thought I was fairly clear on this, but I’ll rewrite.

8

ejh 12.15.10 at 9:47 am

I’m sorry, Prof Quiggin, but I am pretty sure university being a place to which you “go away” for several years a non-negotiable, basic, fundamental pre-condition. Without such a condition it is not a university, but rather a series of classrooms.

Clearly the concept of distance learning has escaped this particular commentor.

9

engels 12.15.10 at 9:54 am

To follow up on 3: how much exactly do poor British people as a group pay for higher education they do not receive?

(Is it possible give figures for other income groups and government services? Eg. how much do men pay for post-natal care they do not receive? How much do people who do not read books pay for libraries they never go to? Etc)

10

aaron_m 12.15.10 at 9:56 am

I would agree with Phil, it seems like a really bad idea to defend public spending on higher education against the unfairness such spending imposes on the working class. That just legitimizes the obviously invented narrative that a policy that blatantly increases inequality and unfairness is actually motivated by fairness.

The 20 year credit idea does not seem all that politically feasible, but equal access to education has broad political support. So why not follow the Swedish model, no tuition fees and individual rights to loans (actually a percentage is a stipend) that cover living costs over your post-secondary education of choice/ability. The loans are financed by previous loan takers who pay back at a rate relative to their income. Such an approach greatly increases access for lower income groups and gets at the mobility problem (students have access to resources that allow them to move from home and attend schools in other parts of the country or even in another state). I would say that Swedish system definitely has a hierarchy in terms of quality as students compete for placement at attractive programs and institutions compete for students.

At any rate it seems that if you are looking for a realizable utopia one could start with the trying to identify the best system that is actually in place (ps. I look forward to hearing the several hilarious ways in which it would be impossible to implement anything remotely like a Swedish model anywhere else on the planet;)) .

11

John Quiggin 12.15.10 at 10:30 am

“Eg. how much do men pay for post-natal care they do not receive? “

AFAIK, men and women are equally eligible for post-natal care provided they meet the condition of being recently born.

Sorry not to be more serious, but the class distribution of the benefits of university education are so clearly skewed towards the wealthy that I can’t engage at any other level. I don’t think dismissing this as an invented narrative is going to work in the long run.

12

John Quiggin 12.15.10 at 10:40 am

For those who think defending the status quo is the way to go, how about the fact that only one black student of Caribbean descent was admitted to Oxford last year. Brasenose College, Oxford, recruits 92% of students from the top three social classes – the sons and daughters of solicitors and accountants.

And while the practices of Oxbridge are egregious, the same is true, if to a lesser extent, at all or nearly all “good” universities, in all or nearly all countries. As Armando says at #2, these outcomes reflect inequalities in schools, incomes etc, but they also contribute to the perpetuation of those inequalities.

13

engels 12.15.10 at 10:46 am

the class distribution of the benefits of university education are so clearly skewed towards the wealthy

may or may not be true but it isn’t the claim you made, and which I flagged, which was:

the minority (probably poorer on average) pay for benefits they don’t receive

I’d still like to see figures to support this. How much (£, or % of taxes paid) does this minority pay for higher education they do not receive?

14

aaron_m 12.15.10 at 10:49 am

“the class distribution of the benefits of university education are so clearly skewed towards the wealthy that I can’t engage at any other level”

1) Surely the best way to address this is to finance higher education in a way that improves the ability of the less wealthy to access education and not the opposite of that!
2) The statement seems to assume that it is necessarily the case that the indirect benefits the ‘non-post-secondary working class’ get from a good system of higher education are heavily outweighed ( presumably all redistributive policies considered) by how much they have to support this system through their taxes. I do not know if this has been the case in the UK (I don’t think so in Sweden). But if the tax rates are such that the wealthy are free-riding on the poor I guess that the obvious policy prescription is to change the tax rates. Sure this is probably utopian thinking (except for alien scandinaviland) but is it really anywhere as utopian as universal grants to 20 year olds?

15

Chris Bertram 12.15.10 at 11:18 am

John, I think that those Oxford figures have been exposed as being pretty bogus, and the “black of Caribbean descent” is a very odd category anyway. Since a lot of black people in the UK, who happen to be of (at least partly) Caribbean descent self-identify as “black British” they are probably showing up in the “Black other” category, and those who refused to answer the racial question showed up nowhere.

16

Phil 12.15.10 at 11:22 am

I would agree with Phil, it seems like a really bad idea to defend public spending on higher education against the unfairness such spending imposes on the working class.

Not sure you are agreeing with Phil, actually. I think it’s a bad idea to start by thinking of public spending of any sort as a burden on the taxpayer. The problems are distributive – can we organise taxation in such a way that public spending is less of a burden on working people? can we organise higher education in such a way that its benefits don’t flow disproportionately to those who are already privileged? These aren’t questions the Coalition appear to be asking.

My suspicion (no more than that) is that, although university access in the 1960s & 70s was much more restricted than at present, that group was drawn from a broader and more socially representative pool – a smaller sample of a larger population.

17

Chris Bertram 12.15.10 at 11:27 am

On the skewed benefits to the wealthy point ….

Well this, of course, is partly a consequence of living in a very unequal society to start with. When that is coupled with the kind of “equal opportunity to get ahead” conception of social justice that informed New Labour and informs Nick Clegg, then things get toxic. The answer isn’t so much to ration access to advantage, so students are in a self-interested competition from day 1, but rather to restrict the amount of advantage available – i.e. more equal outcomes.

(Inequality also feeds into the picture in other noxious ways, because it generates an interest in credentials as a path to advantage, rather than in the actual content of the education.)

Further point: an unequal competition and advantage system presupposes (and thereby helps to legitimate) inequality. It is also predicated on the likelihood that those who go to university will actually enjoy those advantages in the future, that living standards will continue rising, that people should be spending as much time as they do now in paid employment (rather than leisure) etc. How far are those assumptions sustainable given the ecological and other challenges we now face? (Probably a subject for a different blog post!)

18

ejh 12.15.10 at 11:39 am

I just took a look at my Oxford college photo from 1986, showing nearly all the undergraduates and a few of the postgrads.

Every single face on it is white.

I wonder if things have improved since then? I’d want convincing.

19

aaron_m 12.15.10 at 11:40 am

Phil,

I do not know what you are objecting to.

1) I have argued that the supposed unfairness to the working class of publicly funded education is just a way to spin the privatization of this funding, while such privatization is surely more unfair to the working class than the public approach.

2) I have argue that if there is relative unfairness in terms of how much the non-post-secondary working class pays into the system then it is much better addressed by adjusting the relative tax rates of different income groups while having collective funding of higher education in a way that at least gives greater opportunities to mitigate the effects of class on the educational prospects of young people.

20

maidhc 12.15.10 at 11:51 am

I propose that kids who want to become auto mechanics, electricians, plumbers, etc., would be trained as such in some non-university setting. Skilled trades provide a real value to society. I think that a career of this sort should pay off in a middle-class lifestyle.

There was a time when my ideal was somewhat close to reality, but I think it’s getting further away all the time.

21

Phil 12.15.10 at 11:54 am

Since a lot of black people in the UK, who happen to be of (at least partly) Caribbean descent self-identify as “black British” they are probably showing up in the “Black other” category, and those who refused to answer the racial question showed up nowhere.

Ooh, stats. Can I have this one?

I think it’s highly unlikely that anyone would tick the “Black other” box because they identified as “Black British”. On the 2001 census – which is where this breakdown of ethnic identities derives from – “Black or Black British” is the heading under which “Black Caribbean”, “Black African” and “Black – other” are listed. Looking at the actual stats, Oxford had 35 ‘Black Caribbean’ applicants, 172 ‘Black African’ and 14 ‘Black – other’ in 2009, along with 41 “Mixed – White and Black Caribbean” and 37 “Mixed – White and Black African”.

You may be on stronger ground with the null values – cross-checking with other tables, 683 applicants (out of just under 10,893) refused to state their ethnicity, although only 76 of them (out of 2,729) were accepted.

What is spurious, as people have pointed out, is the point about one particular college not having admitted any Black students in the past five years – if Merton’s the only individual college of which that can be said, Oxford isn’t doing that badly.

More on my blog, probably – this is quite interesting.

22

Armando 12.15.10 at 12:03 pm

@Chris 17: The idea of having more equal outcomes sounds ideal to me, but is probably something I would spend almost no effort supporting just because I think that, in the current climate, it is politically non-viable.

A more feasible ambition, if you ask me, is to make well understood arguments about how inquality of outcome can undermine inquality of oppurtunity and hence meritocracy – this is because arguing for meritocracy is often no effort, despite the fact that many people don’t really believe in it. Restricting education is not the answer, I agree, but John’s point about where the benefits accrue cannot be ignored.

23

John Quiggin 12.15.10 at 12:03 pm

Engels (and others), if you read the post a bit more carefully, you’ll see that the sentence to which you object refers to the situation that would arise after a major expansion of education, and to the need, on equity grounds, to make some comparable provision to improve the life prospects of those who, for one reason or another, don’t take part in post-school education.

But, I’ll restate, attempts to present the existing system as defensible on grounds of egalitarian social justice are doomed to failure. Your implied criterion would justify (as happens to some extent in reality) giving better NHS services to well-off districts. In fact, it would justify a system in which public spending had no redistributive effect at all, that is, in which all classes put in the same amount as they received back in services.

Chris, I entirely agree on more equal outcomes, and have written about this at length. But the quality of the education you receive is part of your life outcome, and a system in which top-quality education is reserved for a few can never be fair.

24

Chris Bertram 12.15.10 at 12:18 pm

_a system in which top-quality education is reserved for a few can never be fair._

“is reserved for” is ambiguous here between the claim that only a small number can get it and the claim that only a particularly restricted group can get it. Suppose we have one grande école and lots of universités, but we grant access to the grande école on the basis of a lottery which everyone above a certain threshold of high-school achievement can enter. Wouldn’t that be fair John?

25

Phil 12.15.10 at 12:26 pm

Aaron – you’re right, I wasn’t disagreeing with you (or vice versa); I misread your comment.

26

engels 12.15.10 at 12:41 pm

Your implied criterion would justify (as happens to some extent in reality) giving better NHS services to well-off districts. In fact, it would justify a system in which public spending had no redistributive effect at all, that is, in which all classes put in the same amount as they received back in services.

Huh? I honestly can’t see how I have implied anything resembling that.

I have just been trying to find reasons for viewing your claim that low earners under a progressive tax system with free state education who do not go to university ‘pay for education they do not receive’ as anything other than meaningless rhetoric. I’ve failed.

27

Barry 12.15.10 at 12:45 pm

Tim Worstall
” That’s the assumption that needs to be tested. Is it really true that the majority of the population (or even age cohort) need some form of tertiary education?

More specifically, is it true that said majority need to be attending a place of education in order to gain whatever skills might be desirable?

It’s not all that long ago (certainly within my adult lifetime) that no degree was required to qualify as either an accountant or solicitor (all a degree did give you, other than that mind widening etc, was a free pass through some of the professional courses/exams), you could go off to work as a trainee and take your professional exams while working (articles in the law, might be the same word in accounting).”

I don’t know how it works in the UK, but in the USA those days are long, long gone.
And given the labor market for the past 30 years, it’ll be a cold day in the infernal regions before companies provide training when pre-trained people are available.

28

Steve LaBonne 12.15.10 at 1:42 pm

There was a time when my ideal was somewhat close to reality, but I think it’s getting further away all the time.

People who have more than my very limited knowledge of Europe should correct me, but my impression is that it’s still more or less like that in Germany.

29

Tim Worstall 12.15.10 at 1:46 pm

Well, it appears that it it is still possible to become a solicitor without a degree:

http://www.lawcareers.net/Information/Features/Detail.aspx?r=947

Seems very similar to the old “articles”.

And as to the Oxbridge/black caribbean thing, John, these will help to explain matters:

http://www.virtualeconomics.co.uk/2010/12/follow-up-on-the-oxbridge-admissions-debate-.html

http://www.virtualeconomics.co.uk/2010/12/telling-lies-about-oxbridge.html

For example, only one “British black caribbean” was admitted last year: out of 35 who applied. Which is around and about the usual success rate for all applicants.

There is a problem but it’s not at the Oxbridge level, that’s just where we’re seeing it. British black carribean educational outcomes are very close to white working class ones. It’s not race, but the generally shitty level of general education on offer to the working classes which is the problem.

An oft suggested solution is the abolition of private schooling in the UK: a slightly odd suggestion really, given that it’s not the private schools which are shitty.

30

bob 12.15.10 at 1:52 pm

I’m not sure what’s ‘egregious’ about Oxford admitting only one student of Caribbean origin. You can’t make any conclusions about Oxford’s admissions system from that fact alone as you well know. The official Cambridge response to the David Lammy report was that the percentage of black students admitted was basically equal to the percentage getting 3 As at A level (the absolute minimum standard for admission), a much more useful statistic!

31

Armando 12.15.10 at 1:53 pm

“There is a problem but it’s not at the Oxbridge level, that’s just where we’re seeing it. British black carribean educational outcomes are very close to white working class ones. It’s not race, but the generally shitty level of general education on offer to the working classes which is the problem.”

I think thats true. Oxbridge tends to be the focus of resentment but without serious justification. The problem is that the whole system is unjust, but that would affect more than just the posh yobs everyone loves to hate.

32

ptl 12.15.10 at 1:59 pm

For example, only one “British black caribbean” was admitted last year: out of 35 who applied. Which is around and about the usual success rate for all applicants.

in 2005, according to the Times, Cambridge received 14,585 applications and Oxford 13,287, they admitted around 6,700. 4-5 candidates a place. Success rate, considerably more than 1 in 35.

33

ajay 12.15.10 at 2:01 pm

I am pretty sure university being a place to which you “go away” for several years a non-negotiable, basic, fundamental pre-condition. Without such a condition it is not a university, but rather a series of classrooms. Pretty much every single attempt I have ever heard of to produce commuter universities have usually either ended up in miserable failure or bone-crushing mediocrity.

This seems a bit sweeping. 20% of undergraduates in the UK live at home (ie with their parents) while attending university. Not to mention that a lot of Londoners leave home but stay in London to attend one of the universities there – not exactly “going away to university”. Why on earth should you have to “go away” for it to be a proper university?

34

Tim Worstall 12.15.10 at 2:03 pm

“4-5 candidates a place. Success rate, considerably more than 1 in 35.”

Sure, now apply the law of small numbers.

“Cut a large dataset down to this level and these are just the sort of things that will jump out – Portugal had a similarly low acceptance rate, getting only one student accepted out of 25.”

35

BlaiseP 12.15.10 at 2:09 pm

If a university education produces a graduate who will pay more taxes over time, that seems like a perfect justification for funding his education from existing taxes. But it seldom works out that way in practice, and it’s a worldwide phenomenon.

There a glut of Chinese university graduates without meaningful employment in their fields, and these educations were funded by parents who sacrificed their own lives to send those kids to college. Unless that graduate is from a high-ranking school and has family connections, it’s seldom worth the cost these days.

In desperation, Chinese families are now sending their kids to school in the USA, the UK or Europe, in hopes their kids will master Western attitudes and form alliances beyond China. But even those children return home to face the same stigma: the little no-name school they attended in the West is ridiculed as a Wild Grass College. All this was seen in Japan two decades ago.

The paradigm of egalitarian education only works in an egalitarian society. If we are to form more just societies, we wouldn’t concentrate on the 20 year old but instead focus on the five year old, when children’s minds are still malleable, when some hope for a better life through education might be instilled in the child through the parents. We don’t live in a Confucian society where an education might lift a peasant’s child to prosperity: that’s not working out so well even in China, the most-vibrant of the world’s economies, where Confucius is taken seriously and children are force-fed education like Strasbourg geese for foie gras. The West won the contest of cultures by its mastery of critical thinking, public education, democracy and the scientific method. Forget the 20 year old for now: given a five year old’s child’s postal code, I can predict the odds of his incarceration. Change that five year old’s life, I can change those odds. By the time he’s 20, it’s already too late.

36

ptl 12.15.10 at 2:12 pm

Sure,

you said “usual success rate”. (I agree about the law of small numbers. I also agree the real problem lies elsewhere.)

37

Chris Bertram 12.15.10 at 2:29 pm

bob @30 Sorry, but even though I think Lammy’s stats stink, I don’t think the Cambridge response flies. My response will be, I’m afraid, anecdotal, but I think it generalises.

1. A senior academic at Oxbridge in a field close to my own left school at 16. This person (working class) was bright, got bored of her job and got some further (inadequate) qualifications. She then applied to both Oxford poly and Oxford University. The poly rejected her out of hand, because she didn’t meet their minimum standards. But somehow she got an interview because there was a discretion in the system that doesn’t exist now, and she got in to Oxford. She’s now a Fellow of an Oxbridge college, very well published etc.

2. Another person of my close acquaintance who left school at 16 and went to work for Liverpool city council. She read that Plymouth Poly, as it then was, had places, applied and went. She’s now a senior lawyer. She’s every bit as smart (maybe smarter) as I am. I went to Oxford.

3. Someone else I know who we admitted as a mature student on the basis of interview, with little formal background. Went on to do a PhD and wrote perhaps _the_ book on a major historical figure.

The moral, as far as I’m concerned, is that there are very many really bright people out there who, for one reason or another, fail to meet the threshold set but who would thrive if admitted. If Oxbridge and other elite institutions were disposed to do so, they would find more of such people and admit them. One of the tragedies of the last thirty years has been the gradual closing of such possibilities to bright working class people because of the greater insistence on meeting specific formal entry requirements.

Universities _say_ they want to widen access, but the measures that would actually do this would fall foul of the Daily Mail and cries that they would be “unfair” to the credentialled children of the wealthy.

38

Gaspard 12.15.10 at 2:40 pm

The fact that the wealthy and powerful attend these institutions is constantly confused with the idea that these institutions via their superior education confer greater ability to achieve wealth and power, that there is some magically superior quality to the education received beyond the peer effect. I know as academics you have a vested interest in believing this, but is this borne out in the research? What exactly is the prior cultural capital and ultimate trajectory of the black undergrads? What did Cambridge give to Zadie Smith she didn’t already have? University (with the going away, college balls, etc.) has the same place in the middle-class imagination that “having a vocation” or “becoming a missionary” had for catholic parents a few generations ago, as a badge of transformation. But the reality is that people like Cameron and Boris Johnson exit pretty much exactly as they enter.

39

Tim Worstall 12.15.10 at 2:56 pm

“you said “usual success rate”. “

It’s a fair cop Guv’ I’ll come quietly

40

MPAVictoria 12.15.10 at 3:01 pm

Creeping Credentialism is one of the biggest problems facing people entering the workforce. Some of it might be necessary but in my experience a majority of it is just the various guilds seeking to protect their turf. For example my mother is a Speech-Language Pathologist. When she started practicing in the early 1980s a bachelors degree was the expected qualification. Today it is required that you have at least a masters. I would love to know the reasoning behind this change as my mother and her colleagues seem to feel it is completely unnecessary.

41

Matt 12.15.10 at 3:13 pm

I’m no expert on it, but my impression is that the Canadian higher education system has many of these features, at least more so than the US. That is, while there’s a hierarchy of universities, there’s not the sort of big prestige cut as in the US (or UK, I guess), and not as much, I think, connection between going to a certain set of schools and being at the top. Also, my understanding is that it’s more likely than in the US for students to go to the university closest to them rather than go across the country, and that living at home is more common as well. (That said, I think that many more people in the US don’t “go away” to university than people expect, but rather attend a college or university close to their home. I did, for example, and at the university I attended, while there are about 15,000 full time students now, there are only about 2 or 3 thousand, at most, who live in the dorms. I think this is less uncommon than most people who have “elite” educations realize.)

42

ptl 12.15.10 at 3:18 pm

Universities say they want to widen access, but the measures that would actually do this would fall foul of the Daily Mail and cries that they would be “unfair” to the credentialled children of the wealthy.

True. Universities used to be able to use 2E offers (etc.) reasonably liberally. Then — I forget exactly when — A Level results were made an official measure of university quality, and the rot set in. (IMO.)

43

y81 12.15.10 at 3:52 pm

“there are very many really bright people out there who, for one reason or another, fail to meet the threshold set but who would thrive if admitted. If Oxbridge and other elite institutions were disposed to do so, they would find more of such people and admit them. “

One could have told similar stories about the U.S. a generation ago. Back then, Ivy League universities didn’t have six applicants for every place. But university admissions at the top tier have gotten much more competitive, and no one has figured out a way to identify “really bright people” without formal credentials and distinguish them from charming slackers without formal credentials. So I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the universities today to do so.

Also, remember that people play the game they are given. If universities start looking for fascinating life experiences instead of high SAT scores, bright ambitious children with wealthy ambitious parents will stop taking Stanley Kaplan courses and sign up as seamen on tramp steamers or English teachers in Beijing or whatever is wanted. In fact, the children of the wealthy will find it easier to locate those fascinating–and often poorly remunerated–life experiences than the children of the poor.

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mace 12.15.10 at 3:55 pm

an absolutely correct question
“I’d still like to see figures to support this. How much (£, or % of taxes paid) does this minority pay for higher education they do not receive?”
and also absolutely correct
assuming it is a problem after all then certainly
“… if the tax rates are such that the wealthy are free-riding on the poor I guess that the obvious policy prescription is to change the tax rates. “
in particular this issue is simply and easily dealt with by steeply progressive taxation rates; doubtless with such rates, the working class would pay effectively zero for a benefit they many not have received and it would have the satisfactory result that those who achieve high incomes because of their educational background (though they may not be particularly well educated) will pay handsomely for they benefit
the reason for the silly and convoluted scheems envisoned by many wooly headed liberals is that they want to avoid this whole question of seriously taxing the rich
and then of course there is this truth via Armando
” It’s not race, but the generally shitty level of general education on offer to the working classes which is the problem.”

.

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StevenAttewell 12.15.10 at 3:55 pm

Agreed. However, I’d broaden the argument somewhat: there needs to be a universal system, both of social protection, and of provision of all the tools necessary for individual independence, from “cradle to launch.”
http://realignmentproject.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/from-cradle-to-launch-rethinking-youth-policy/

Public universities should be a part of that, but only one part. Realistically, another big part of it – and I’m sorry for jumping on my hobbyhorse here, but it’s true – is jobs. Both for those who don’t desire an academic track but also for all young people who land in the job market and find it hard going due to less experience.
http://realignmentproject.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/job-insurance-part-11-for-the-young/

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StevenAttewell 12.15.10 at 4:03 pm

* sorry, didn’t expand my argument there.

Cradle to launch – because if we don’t universalize all the way along the birth-to-18 track, it makes everything else much harder. Part of the reason why Cambridge and Oxford are so elitist is that the elite are coming in with so much accumulated advantage – both in terms of intangibles like cultural and social capital and a style of dealing with bureaucracy and tangibles like food, books, clothing, housing, availability of parents and child care providers, and so forth – that efforts to work against this are to an extent bailing against the tide.
(Incidentally, is there such a thing as class-based affirmative action in British higher ed? I know there was that kerfuffle over Yvette Cooper’s thing earlier this year, but wasn’t clear on what it encompassed)

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engels 12.15.10 at 4:14 pm

Incidentally, is there such a thing as class-based affirmative action in British higher ed?

As far as I am aware, there is no such thing as affirmative action tout court in British higher ed, or in Britain at large. On the other hand, we do have the ‘British sense of fair play’, which works out very nicely if you are middle-class, white and male.

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Steve LaBonne 12.15.10 at 4:22 pm

I don’t see any realistic way that fairness can ever begin at university-going age when opportunities prior to that have been radically unequal.

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Chris Bertram 12.15.10 at 4:23 pm

@y81 Really no connection at all to the people I was thinking about – “fascinating life experiences”/”charming slackers” etc. is just a picture you’ve painted in your head.

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MPAVictoria 12.15.10 at 4:40 pm

Chris Bertram:
Doesn’t y81 make a good point though? How do you tell the difference between a underutilized genius who just needs a chance and a charming slacker in the course of a 30 minute meeting? Heck some people manage to disguise their slackerness with charm for whole careers.

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ajay 12.15.10 at 4:44 pm

One of the tragedies of the last thirty years has been the gradual closing of such possibilities to bright working class people because of the greater insistence on meeting specific formal entry requirements.

Chris, if your argument is “a more informal and subjective admissions process would naturally lead to greater representation of currently underrepresented groups” then that’s going to need a bit of fleshing out with data, because it’s pretty counter what you’d expect. My own guess would be that such a system would not admit lots of working class geniuses who (through circumstances beyond their control) didn’t have enough A-levels, but would instead admit lots of upper class dolts who (through circumstances beyond their control, i.e. inborn stupidity) didn’t have enough A-levels.

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Steve LaBonne 12.15.10 at 4:48 pm

I’m with ajay. See under: George W. Bush. In the US the prestigious universities have always had affirmative action for upper-class idiots.

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reason 12.15.10 at 4:48 pm

I’m wondering if this will do. Don’t we need lifetime education? I honestly think a more radical rethink is possible. Why do it so intensively all at once? Couldn’t people earn their way through?

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Substance McGravitas 12.15.10 at 4:50 pm

Doesn’t y81 make a good point though? How do you tell the difference between a underutilized genius who just needs a chance and a charming slacker in the course of a 30 minute meeting?

Well, you can’t, but interviews for positions of all sorts continue. Hand-wringing over certainty is an excuse to do nothing.

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Chris Bertram 12.15.10 at 4:52 pm

No ajay I don’t have data, but as for dolts, I think the problem is that it is (relatively) easy for good schools to coach docile kids to good A-Level scores, whereas poorer schools are bad at coaching even smart working class kids to similar scores. So the A-level system tends to be (and I think to have become) more socially discriminatory. A different system (maybe SATS, I’m not familiar) might do better.

[I'm aware that we're threadjacking here so we ought to stop]

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Steve LaBonne 12.15.10 at 4:53 pm

And I will add to my last post, that before some degree of meritocracy however imperfect was adopted, the Ivy League enrolled practically nothing but upper-class twits.

I’m afraid there’s no shortcut to a more equal and just society. It begins at birth or it doesn’t happen at all.

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engels 12.15.10 at 5:22 pm

Are you sure it’s not possible for someone to be working class, a charming slacker AND an under-utilised genius?

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StevenAttewell 12.15.10 at 5:30 pm

Bertram –

No. Not the SATs – the SATs are a really poor system that funnels everything through the bottleneck of “are you proficient at high school math” and “are you at the same time proficient in pedantic points of the English language.” It’s gotten a bit better with the essay segment, but it’s still a terrible test, both as a measurement tool and a predictor of academic success.

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mpowell 12.15.10 at 5:43 pm

I feel like I’m coming in a little late to this thread, but I want to agree with various others that the age of 20 is the wrong time to start worrying about equality of opportunity. If our workforce needs more people to experience HE to improve it’s productivity, certainly we should find ways of providing it to them, but that would be true whether you were egalitarian or not. And I believe this to be an open question for sure.

I propose an alternative utopia vision: the university system is not about promoting egalitarianism. It is about promoting a productive workforce. There is value in an elite education system that groups the best students so they can reach their full potential. And of course, the financial burdens should be arranged so that anyone capable and interested in attending either an elite university or more average options should not be discouraged by the cost. I believe a few years ago at MIT they announced that kids with parents making less than 70K/year would receive full tuition support. I think Harvard has a similar policy. That pretty much takes care of the problem, as far as I can tell. Not all the elite schools are this generous, but if we could return public school costs to where they were in just the 90s we would go along way towards the goal of open access to everyone qualified for various levels of HE. I don’t have a comparable level of feel for the comparison in the UK before or after this reform, but I think that’s where the focus should be.

Regarding outcomes, as long as we continue to operate in a mixed economy the brighter or more driven will always reap substantially greater rewards, but the desperation that has developed among the middle and lower classes holding on tenuously to their lifestyle is not going to be fixed by changing access to HE. I believe it requires labor reform, a more progessive tax code and a better safety net. HE should be an available option to members of the lower class who are interested (given some personal commitment), but it should not be required to live a decent life.

I think the premise of this post has some promise, but I disagree with the utopian vision it starts with.

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MPAVictoria 12.15.10 at 5:55 pm

Substance McGravitas:
Hard to argue with that. However it still seems like randomly conducted interviews would not really be an improvement over the current system. Of course I say that with only an interested outsider’s knowledge of the UK’s university system.

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Mario Diana 12.15.10 at 6:16 pm

In the U.S., we made the mistake a long time ago by creating the major in business administration, or whatever it’s now called. It used to be that aspiring business people began in the mail room. In this way, they learned the lay of the land in a company and had the opportunity to distinguish themselves. They sorted the mail, and the mail room sorted them.

Now, rather than beginning in the mail room, people begin their careers in college. Only, on graduation, many of them still end up working as “assistant managers” at Staples or some other such big box retailer.

I see very little difference — but for the tens of thousands of dollars owed in student loans.

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bob mcmanus 12.15.10 at 6:19 pm

36: “Are you sure it’s not possible for someone to be working class, a charming slacker AND an under-utilised genius?”

I know it is possible. Wait. Charming?

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StevenAttewell 12.15.10 at 6:23 pm

mp0well:

Wow. I really have to disagree on (virtually all of) your post. Firsly, I think it ignores the role of public higher education as promoting democracy itself – in the deliberative, Deweyian model. Second, the “full education support” is a giant smokescreen. It hides the fact that an enormous proportion of aid is given as work-study and loans, which impose burdens on the less wealthy student, and the impact of the deterrent effect on the class makeup of academia.

But I do agree on labor market reform, progressive taxation, and the safety net.

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Substance McGravitas 12.15.10 at 6:26 pm

However it still seems like randomly conducted interviews would not really be an improvement over the current system. Of course I say that with only an interested outsider’s knowledge of the UK’s university system.

Well, presumably interviews aren’t conducted at random but from a pool of interested applicants, the same as with any other interview situation. I’m no expert on the UK system either, but whatever might go wrong in a system that allowed some flexibility you still wind up with an applicant who has to do the work and not just be magically granted a credential. (Unless, of course, your credential factory never fails anybody…)

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Myles SG 12.15.10 at 6:51 pm

Sorry about this, I think we better get rid of the last comment I made before it’s released from moderation. As much as I am personally offended by some of the post (I am a student, after all), my last comment is not much use, so if we can get rid it (and this comment too) it would be great.

Thanks.

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Chris Williams 12.15.10 at 7:29 pm

Well, I say let everyone in. And let them stay at home. But then again, I work for the Open University, so I would.

I think that I’m closer to Chris B than to Ajay on the question of whether looser entry requirements were a good thing or not. There would undoubtedly have been a lot of noise in the system (hunky blond rowers seemed to find it very easy to get into Oriel to read -subject- in the mid 1980s, for example.) but if you’re going to be spending about 16 hours a year in someone’s company for the next three, and you’re forced to mark most of their work, you are probably more spring-loaded to go for the clever poor kid than the rich dunce among the uncredentialled.

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John Quiggin 12.15.10 at 7:45 pm

“Suppose we have one grande école and lots of universités, but we grant access to the grande école on the basis of a lottery which everyone above a certain threshold of high-school achievement can enter. Wouldn’t that be fair John?”

This is a nice thought experiment, since the system you propose is
(a) Obviously unfair compared to a system which provides a decent education to all who can benefit from it (I’m assuming that this is the threshold to which you refer), with no grande ecole for the lucky few
(b) Obviously fairer than the existing system, which will inevitably favor the better-off whether it relies exclusively on test scores or introduces a subjective element

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Myles SG 12.15.10 at 7:59 pm

“Suppose we have one grande école and lots of universités, but we grant access to the grande école on the basis of a lottery which everyone above a certain threshold of high-school achievement can enter. Wouldn’t that be fair John?”

This system is, amusingly enough, in operation in some respects. It’s operative in the selection within the Ivy League. Everyone with a certain level of achievement can get into the Ivy League, but within that selection for Harvard and Princeton are (unless you are an athlete/legacy/etc.) more or less pretty random at a certain level. (1)

I do want to gloss a bit that the reason it much more resembles Chris’s hypothetical lottery than seems at first glance is that the number of “open”, competitive spots at Harvard and Princeton is much, much lower than the enrollment. Once you discount the already allocated spots (athletes, legacies, donors) you have perhaps 1000 a year at Harvard and less at Princeton for the general applicant pool.

The common opinion seems to be that it’s horribly unfair, although it’s hard to say, really.

fn1: Yale is a bit less random, but it’s complicated.

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John Quiggin 12.15.10 at 8:03 pm

@Steve La Bonne “I’m afraid there’s no shortcut to a more equal and just society. It begins at birth or it doesn’t happen at all.”

It’s obvious that there are plenty of sources of inequality other than unequal access to post-school education. Nevertheless, a highly stratified and unequally funded system of post-school education is a significant source of inequality in its own right, as well as amplifying the pre-existing inequalities in the school system and the income distribution system generally.

The suggestion ( I’m unsure if you intended it, but it’s evident in quite a few responses in this thread) that until we have achieved a comprehensive equalization of opportunity and outcome we can ignore the contribution to inequality of the university system (from which most of us have benefited) strikes me as rather reminiscent of Fulvia Morgana.

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Steve LaBonne 12.15.10 at 8:09 pm

What I’m saying is that admitting more poorly qualified students to universities will diminish the quality of the universities while doing little to affect inequality. And however unintended, I think that’s the likely outcome of some of the solutions mooted in this thread. In a US context, for example, I’m as ready as anybody to admit that the SAT sucks, but a little historical perspective will reveal that the system founded on them was a significant advance over the blatant class and religious bias that existed before.

There’s no way around the fact that we have to attack the factors that cause students from non-privileged backgrounds to be less qualified. No, that doesn’t mean we do nothing else in the meantime, but it does mean that that’s where the main focus needs to be.

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Rob 12.15.10 at 8:09 pm

I find the original post very hard to disagree with, partly because it makes a fundamentally good point, but also because it’s (perhaps necessarily) light on specifics. The idea that everyone should have the possibility of an appropriate education is laudable, but “appropriate” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.

Personally, as someone who went to an ex-poly (a lower-tier university) in the UK to study software engineering, and dropped out during the second year (still paying my loans off though!) I am unconvinced of the merits of degrees in such subjects. I’m 29 now and earn what I have to admit is a very good amount of money, but I’d struggle to attribute any of that to my time at university. If I were advising an 18-year-old, I’d feel torn between the deeply-ingrained notion that university is essential (I was the proverbial first in my family to go to university and had this drummed into me) and my practical experience that university education is a poor substitute for hands-on experience.

My utopia would involve a massive re-think about the value of vocational education, with much greater emphasis on vocational learning in “technical” fields (Tim’s point about lawyers and accountants stands here). Most “knowledge” workers are really “know-how” workers, and you get that from doing stuff rather than knowing the theory behind it. The theoreticians are the pioneers who invent the stuff that people like me can exploit in our work, and they’re tremendously valuable, but I think they really belong in institutions capable of supporting them properly. At the moment, we have a lot of university courses which are pale imitations of truly cutting-edge courses run at elite universities, which satisfy neither the theoreticians’ absolute need to be on the cutting edge, nor the know-how workers’ need to gain practical, self-directed experience, with just enough theory to contextualise their know-how. My software engineer’s utopia is that 18-year-olds would be taken on by employers, with free high-quality theory education taking up about a year in total, spread over their first three years of employment. Instead of >£10k of debt, they’d make a profit as they’d be being paid (albeit not much, perhaps) for their work. I’ve no idea how this would generalise into other subjects.

If we assume that a fair chunk of the current student population really need high-quality vocational education, possibly combined with paid work, the costs of the education system should fall, freeing more resources to be pumped into those parts of the system where such a model is not feasible (most, I guess, of the arts, and theory-heavy science?). I’ve no opposition to the idea that this kind of education should be done at elite institutions – you really want the best minds in the same room wherever possible. But these institutions need to be capable of taking people from all backgrounds, and if possible I’d like to believe that they could be made into true palaces of learning rather than a networking club for the next generation of political, cultural and economic overlords which Oxbridge sometimes ends up sounding like. Ironically, I think the best way to do that might be to greatly reduce the perceived value of educational qualifications, thus putting off the kind of people who only go because they think it’s a route to money and power.

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Emma in Sydney 12.15.10 at 8:09 pm

Myles SG, we here in Australia seem to run an internationally competitive higher education system where probably 80% of Australian students don’t leave their home city. It is competitive enough that higher education has become Australia’s second largest export earner. Which has its own problems, of course, but failure and bone-crushing mediocrity don’t seem to be among them.

As a student, you might want to avoid assuming that all things different from the ones you already know are disastrous failures. It makes it hard to learn.

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Substance McGravitas 12.15.10 at 8:20 pm

It is competitive enough that higher education has become Australia’s second largest export earner. Which has its own problems, of course, but failure and bone-crushing mediocrity don’t seem to be among them.

I’d include aromatherapy training as a combination of bone-crushing mediocrity AND failure.

http://www.google.com/search?q=site:www.csu.edu.au+aromatherapy&ie=UTF-8

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Emma in Sydney 12.15.10 at 8:28 pm

Substance, I’m sure you can find lots of similar examples of woo nonsense in the US and UK where most students go away. I was talking about the overall system, which is, on balance, neither of those things. Australian universities appear in each of the subject area top 50 lists in the Times Higher Ed list , which is not bad considering how small we are.

But hey, you and Myles carry on. Enjoy!

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John Quiggin 12.15.10 at 8:32 pm

Steve, looking at the US system, it seems to me that a more egalitarian post-school education system would make a big difference, even in the absence of any changes at the school level or in society at large
(1) The lower levels of the system (community colleges and second-tier state unis) are badly underfunded
(2) Contrary to your suggestion, lots of people who would benefit from top-tier university education are excluded whether by SAT scores or inability to pay. This is most glaringly obvious in the desperate attempts to get into the Ivies, but I think it is also true of the top state unis

How you get from the existing setup to something more egalitarian is a tricky question (hence my ducking it via utopianism) but denying the problem is not going to help.

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John Quiggin 12.15.10 at 8:37 pm

Amusingly, CSU (home of the aromatherapy course linked by Substance) is as close as Australia gets to the “going away to college” experience – its campuses are mostly in country towns . That’s not a drawcard for urban students in Australia, and CSU is a fair way down our hierarchy, although they certainly have some good courses and do some good research.

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Steve LaBonne 12.15.10 at 8:40 pm

I wasn’t aware that I was denying the problem. I was giving an opinion that in the context of the bigger picture, this is a significant piece but by no means the most significant. And I heartily agree about better funding for the institutions that really do something for social mobility- this is much more urgent than worrying about who gets into Harvard.

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Substance McGravitas 12.15.10 at 8:41 pm

Substance, I’m sure you can find lots of similar examples of woo nonsense in the US and UK where most students go away.

I don’t think isolated woo is comparable to national training schemes that include homeopathy.

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Myles SG 12.15.10 at 8:46 pm

Myles SG, we here in Australia seem to run an internationally competitive higher education system where probably 80% of Australian students don’t leave their home city. It is competitive enough that higher education has become Australia’s second largest export earner. Which has its own problems, of course, but failure and bone-crushing mediocrity don’t seem to be among them.

I believe the system in Canada, my home and native land, is fairly similar to Australia’s. Well, a couple things: a) lots of foreign students congregate at places like Jacksonville State in the U.S., but it doesn’t make it any good. Oxbridge, on the other hand, takes many less foreigners than some other schools.

By the way, the way the system in Canada works is that most of the people get a really unsatisfying and irritated experiences at places like the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia (Vancouver), so on, where sightings of professors are as ephemeral as Bigfoot, and some people who want a more “collegiate” experience decamp for places like Queen’s or Western Ontario, etc.

University of Toronto, for example, is not internationally known for mediocrity. In Canada its expansion into suburban commuter campuses, however, is regarded with aversion by a lot of people, even presumptive parents of the thusly enfranchised students. I think it’s pretty illustrative insofar as questions of mediocrity go that people the downtown, less commuter campus of U of T has much higher entrance requirements than its suburban cousins.

And I mean, I personally think the U of Toronto has done a pretty damn good job of expansion. Yet it is nonetheless filled with incidents like this (from Wikipedia, about Universy of Toronto Scarborough. This was in 1964):

“Professors would record their lectures and broadcast them on the television screens during class time, eliminating the need for instructors to come in and allowing greater flexibility for them.”

Eliminating the need for instructors to come in………………..

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Steve LaBonne 12.15.10 at 8:47 pm

P.S.

Contrary to your suggestion, lots of people who would benefit from top-tier university education are excluded whether by SAT scores or inability to pay.

From my direct experience as a college teacher and as a parent of a student in the honors program at a large state university whose non-honors students are distinctly mediocre, I think there are a lot fewer of these people than you think, at least in the US. The sad fact is that poor high school preparation is very difficult to overcome, and students whose parents are not equipped to fill in the gaps are doubly disadvantaged. I’m a lot more worried about improving high schools (which in turn requires improving elementary and middle schools) than I am about more egalitarian access to my alma mater.

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Substance McGravitas 12.15.10 at 8:48 pm

I guess I should link that:

http://www.ntis.gov.au/Default.aspx?/trainingpackage/HLT07

Most of that is non-university stuff – and most I’m sure legitimate, useful and science-based – but some programs, including the woo-infested ones, ladder into university programs.

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mpowell 12.15.10 at 8:48 pm


Wow. I really have to disagree on (virtually all of) your post. Firsly, I think it ignores the role of public higher education as promoting democracy itself – in the deliberative, Deweyian model.

I’m not sure what in my comment conflicts with this idea. Is your intention that 100% of the population would attend HE? If so, yeah, we disagree, but that just seems silly to me. I’m not sure college serves any purpose for more than half the population except to the extent it teaches students habits and skill they were supposed to learn in high school but did not. And I’m pretty sure that none of those students are developing the kind of insight and knowledge you are hoping for during their commuter school, scramble to get the credits to graduate experience. I suppose we could take the model that everyone will live off the public dime enjoying a broad education until the age of 24, but that sounds outlandishly expensive and I think many students would refuse to partake anyhow.

Regarding tuition support, a quick google check did not reveal anything substantive. Regardless of what the privates are doing, I think the most important thing is to provide a public HE structure like CA with top level universities, mid level state schools and commuter community colleges (and a cost structure like we saw 20 years ago). I continue to maintain that the HE system is there to train a productive workforce. I think academics are substantially over inclined to over estimate the value or interest a liberal arts HE has to the majority of students that don’t see a clear financial benefit. Or to put it differently: students are lazy and don’t care unless it will impact their future earnings. Trying to fight that is just a waste of money and energy.

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Myles SG 12.15.10 at 8:54 pm

By the way, to this very day a number of classes at the University of British Colunbia have such gargantuan enrollments that the students cannot be all fitted into the same lecture hall as the actual lecturer, so that, believe it or not, a whole chunk of the students are removed to a separate room where there is no lecturer whatsoever, to watch the lecture being streamed live on a giant screen, for the purposes of actual, classroom instruction.

And UBC is one of the better-regarded ones.

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Myles SG 12.15.10 at 8:59 pm

I’m a lot more worried about improving high schools (which in turn requires improving elementary and middle schools) than I am about more egalitarian access to my alma mater.

It’s fairly true, actually. I struggled a bit intially at an elite American institution, and I had gone to one of Canada’s top prep schools beforehand. Bad preparation at the high school level is just not something you can wave away.

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MS 12.15.10 at 9:07 pm

Brief comment on ‘distance learning’ direct EJH’s way:

There was a recent article in the Times about distant learning, and its contents conform to my experience with it. In brief, it is alienating and not conducive to learning. Perhaps it will evolve. But if the sort of thing you mean is what the article describes, then the evolution of ‘distance learning’ as a means for serving the non-Oxbridge set would mean the evolution of a second-rate system.

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andthenyoufall 12.15.10 at 9:29 pm

My own hope for a realistic utopianism (which has more to do with the state of affairs in the US than in the UK); a decent high school education for absolutely every teenager.

I can’t really think seriously about redesigning tertiary education from scratch when what (US) universities, even quite prestigious ones, impart to their students are writing and reasoning skills that the students should have developed in secondary school.

Can I ignore the effect of tertiary education on inequality? No: the university system is unjust. Can I ignore the marginal effect of tweaking tertiary education in an egalitarian direction? Absolutely. If this is supposed to be an exercise in realistic utopianism, it’s silly to imagine a just tertiary system from the ground up while imagining that the secondary system remains completely unchanged. But if we do reimagine the entire educational system from the ground up, then (i) the egalitarian effects of the new primary and secondary systems would swamp the effects of the new tertiary system, and (ii) it may not make sense to reimagine the tertiary system until we see what sort of students graduate from high school in a realistic utopia.

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StevenAttewell 12.15.10 at 9:52 pm

I’m not sure what in my comment conflicts with this idea. Is your intention that 100% of the population would attend HE? If so, yeah, we disagree, but that just seems silly to me. I’m not sure college serves any purpose for more than half the population except to the extent it teaches students habits and skill they were supposed to learn in high school but did not. And I’m pretty sure that none of those students are developing the kind of insight and knowledge you are hoping for during their commuter school, scramble to get the credits to graduate experience. I suppose we could take the model that everyone will live off the public dime enjoying a broad education until the age of 24, but that sounds outlandishly expensive and I think many students would refuse to partake anyhow.

Regarding tuition support, a quick google check did not reveal anything substantive. Regardless of what the privates are doing, I think the most important thing is to provide a public HE structure like CA with top level universities, mid level state schools and commuter community colleges (and a cost structure like we saw 20 years ago). I continue to maintain that the HE system is there to train a productive workforce. I think academics are substantially over inclined to over estimate the value or interest a liberal arts HE has to the majority of students that don’t see a clear financial benefit. Or to put it differently: students are lazy and don’t care unless it will impact their future earnings. Trying to fight that is just a waste of money and energy.

Well, the comment “the university system is not about promoting egalitarianism. It is about promoting a productive workforce” would be my starting point.

What I am suggesting is that, as part of a system of universal education/training (which doesn’t have to be full-time and can be combined with working), we have a need for public intellectuals and experts to provide both the public and the government with evidence-based advice that can be democratically debated, and which is not connected or beholden to private interests. At the same time, as part of universal training, I feel that even people pursuing a skilled trade need some training on how to be an active and inquiring citizen, so that experts can’t pull the wool over their eyes.

Regarding tuition payment, here’s how it works, using the U.C’s Blue and Gold program as a basis (credit here to Prof. Meister of the UC Faculty Association):
- first, Blue and Gold requires you to fill out FAFSA, and apply for the maximum in Federal and State aid. Then Blue and Gold “combines all sources of scholarship and grant awards you receive (federal, state, UC and private) to count toward covering your fees.” (In other words, the UC is describing outside aid as UC aid)
- second, Blue and Gold’s aid budgets assume both the family and the student kicking in large amounts to cover the cost of going to the U.C. In the U.C’s model budget, the student is expected to work enough to save $4,000 a year and take out $5000 a year in loans. A family making $20,000 a year is expected to kick in $9,100 a year (or 45.5% of yearly income), a family making $40,000 will have to come up with $11,600 (or 29% of yearly income), a family making $60,000 will have to come up with $16,100 (26.8%), and a family making $80,000 will have to come up with $22,600 (or 28.25%). (This is all from their sample budgets in January 2010).
- third, expansions in the Blue Gold program have not come from additional revenue, but rather by increasing the “loan/work” expectations within the program.
http://www.cucfa.org/news/2010_nov15.php

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StevenAttewell 12.15.10 at 9:52 pm

* whoops, lost the second paragraph from the blockquote. Sorry.

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Chris E 12.15.10 at 11:27 pm

University systems will very probably always reflect the society creating them – unless significant and constant intervention is on the cards. Perhaps that’s why Australia’s system is more egalitarian than that in the US or UK, though in time it’s destined to ossify.

Go back to when Princeton, Yale et al were mainly for the training of the clergy and you had (some) alternate entry paths for bright sons of farmers and the like who would be hothoused through several ancient languages and given a basic grounding in logic, rhetoric etc If you look at the seminaries which replaced them when they went Unitarian/Liberal they followed the same model for a while. In many ways these were no more than the scholarship programs of their day so too much shouldn’t be read into them.

I agree with those who say that the problem starts and needs to be addressed much earlier. In fact, I suspect that pre-university education provides a good foundation for later life entirely to the extent to which it grounds you in the Trivium (plus Maths) and inculcates in you the ability to work hard.

Those of us who are lazy and were never taught grammar in school will have to make do with our charming personalities.

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tom 12.15.10 at 11:59 pm

@Tim Worstall: It’s not all that long ago (certainly within my adult lifetime) that no degree was required to qualify as either an accountant or solicitor.

Very true. If, for example, you want to be a lawyer in a certain state in U.S., you have to take the bar exam in that state. To take the bar exam, besides of course paying a few thousands of dollars, you need to go to an accredited law school. To get into an accredited law school in most cases you need a B.A. Same for doctors. One should reduce the power of the guilds that protect their members and impose bottle-necks of all sorts. The importance of tertiary education would decrease and so guaranteeing access to educational resources of similar quality, whatever that exactly means, would be less of a concern.

Moreover, focusing on more access to education, maybe unintentionally, fosters the idea that, if you do not have a B.A. degree (actually a post-graduate degree in U.S.), you have a lower social status.

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Omega Centauri 12.16.10 at 6:00 am

I think one of the major problems with the current system, is how linear it is timelinewise. We expect nearly everyone to traverse from high school, to undergrad, to grad to jobs, with many
jumping out to the job market along the way. Anyone who is say slow to mature is out of luck. Now, I know it is possible for older students to go to college, but the reality is very few do. We could benefit from a system where people could get some education, then go to work until they apprciate what their next educational step should be, then take it. I know I suffered from a combination of educational burnout, and lack of outside experience because of the linear model.

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reason 12.16.10 at 8:50 am

omega @90
I already said that @53.
Ivan Illich was considered interesting, but was totally ignored (so much so that I think he is mostly now out of print). Personally, I think he had a point. But we can’t really expect much support I suppose from a website dominated by academics with a vested interest in the current system, can we.-)

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ajay 12.16.10 at 11:17 am

It’s worth bearing in mind that any system based on ability or merit – even one that is completely insulated from things like exam coaching, interview coaching etc – will still favour the rich over the poor. Why? Because the rich are rich and money buys things which give you advantages. It buys you things like, for example, proper nutrition, better health, a stable home environment (financial pressure is a major cause of domestic disturbance, and responsible for a significant number of divorces), lots of books, better educational outcomes and so on. Being poor is a disadvantage, it’s not just some arbitrary feature of your life like your hair colour.

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Oliver 12.16.10 at 1:47 pm

I can’t ever see these ideas working. There are (at least) two main reasons:

Clever people like to be with clever people; very clever people like to be with very clever people. Over time you should always expect bright academics to migrate to the place where the other bright academics are. (One could do a formal demonstration of this using Schelling’s Models of Segregation). So, absent pretty aggressive state intervention, the idea of no elite institutions is a non-starter.

Secondly, what you’re proposing is incredibly inefficient. Put a smart academic into a department of dumb academics and, if the department is one in which any kind of collaborative effort is required, you massively reduce the smart academic’s effectiveness. Time which could be spent doing useful, original work gets wasted explaining to all the spare wheels stuff which they should know already. Conversely, one would expert there to be positive network effects in departments made up entirely of smart academics; Princeton’s IAS wasn’t just set up for reasons of corporate vanity.

A society which organised its higher education system along the lines you’re proposing would be much worse off. To prevent the migration effect (smart academics wanting to be with their peers) you’d have effectively to curtail freedom of movement in some way. And (a bigger point in the scheme of things) the fact that you’d reduced the productiveness of your academic elite would clearly have knock-on effects on innovation and wealth creation. Why would you want to do any of this?

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Zamfir 12.16.10 at 2:28 pm

Oliver, isn’t the IAS an argument against your theory? After all, if cleverness was such an automatic stratifier, you wouldn’t need loads of money and rustic woods to lure smart minds together.

But in practice, the world is filled by institutes, state-pushed and otherwise pushed, that try hard to become concentrations of clever people. Presumably, without such pushing smart people would prefer to stay where their friends live and where their kids are going to school.

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MPAVictoria 12.16.10 at 2:41 pm

Oliver makes a good point. Don’t we want all these super genius cooped up together thinking up ingenious new solutions to the worlds problems? Maybe the real problem is the continued association of two very different tasks, research and education, in a single institution?

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Keir 12.16.10 at 2:49 pm

Conversely, one would expert there to be positive network effects in departments made up entirely of smart academics; Princeton’s IAS wasn’t just set up for reasons of corporate vanity.

Sadly, the IAS is neither Princeton’s, nor, infamously, anything conducive to particular brilliance.

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Zamfir 12.16.10 at 2:56 pm

Don’t we want all these super genius cooped up together thinking up ingenious new solutions to the worlds problems?
If there ever was an age for super geniuses, it’s long past. Solutions to the world’s problems require massive manpower, with lots of specialization. Think about cell research and the accompanying medical research. It is done by thousands upon thousands of people, in 100s of institutes of different stripe all around the world, each focussed on clarifying some small part of a bigger picture. And teaching is rather crucial to getting the generation of manpower, because you’re not going to solve all the problems in this generation.

A few super geniuses cooped together might be more romantically pleasing than research on industrial scales, but efficient it is not.

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Chris Bertram 12.16.10 at 3:14 pm

_A society which organised its higher education system along the lines you’re proposing would be much worse off._

What is the evidence for this? After all, if we take most West European countries, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to be roughly similar in general standard of living, then we also see a range of countries with massively different HE systems. Some of these are very elite oriented, others not so much.

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Walt 12.16.10 at 3:18 pm

Isn’t the IAS a notorious failure, in that everyone who goes there does worse work than they did before they were there?

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dsquared 12.16.10 at 3:20 pm

Conversely, one would expert there to be positive network effects in departments made up entirely of smart academics; Princeton’s IAS wasn’t just set up for reasons of corporate vanity

Isn’t this a really bad example? The IAS really hasn’t delivered loads and loads of new discoveries and is pretty notorious for being full of scholars with a marvellous future behind them. IIRC (and looking it up on the Wikipedia page seems to show I do), Richard Feynman specifically thought that the network effects were negative and that sitting around talking to nobody other than anointed Great Brains was death to new ideas.

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tomslee 12.16.10 at 3:31 pm

Feynman is not a great example as he was such a one-off intuitionist: for someone who was a great lecturer he failed to leave a legacy of successful graduate students. Collaboration doesn’t seem to have been his strong suit.

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Zamfir 12.16.10 at 3:41 pm

I doubt that exempting brilliant people from teaching is going to increase the number of successful students in their legacy.

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ajay 12.16.10 at 4:01 pm

But in practice, the world is filled by institutes, state-pushed and otherwise pushed, that try hard to become concentrations of clever people. Presumably, without such pushing smart people would prefer to stay where their friends live and where their kids are going to school.

I’m a bit unsure about this. Rutherford didn’t stay in New Zealand. He left his family and went halfway round the world (by steam ship, yet) to Cambridge because Cambridge was where the clever people were – people like Rayleigh and Thomson. And Chandrasekhar left his family in India and went halfway round the world to Cambridge because that’s where Rutherford and Eddington and Dirac were. And basically everyone in the world went to Copenhagen at some point because that’s where Bohr was. I don’t think there was any other push involved, really.

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StevenAttewell 12.16.10 at 4:13 pm

Oliver – isn’t the eliteness under discussion the eliteness of having money? Because I don’t think it’s true that, ceteris paribus, being rich makes you smarter.

Indeed, I think a more egalitarian system would be more likely to increase the number of smart people and meritocratic-style elite institutions. If you look at the rates of college attendance in the U.S, for example, the low-performing rich attend college at higher rates than higher-performing poor/working class/middle class at virtually all levels.
(see graph here: http://realignmentproject.wordpress.com/2009/07/23/the-balance-wheel-of-social-machinery-universal-public-higher-education/)

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MPAVictoria 12.16.10 at 4:22 pm

Zamfir:
Do the really brilliant people do much teaching anyway? From my time in both undergraduate and graduate programs at universities the really great minds do very little actual in classroom teaching. It is mostly junior professors and TAs. Why not create two sets of institutions? One for training/teaching and one for research. Those who show real brilliance at the former can apply for positions at the later.
/Sorry for the threadjack.

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Steve LaBonne 12.16.10 at 4:46 pm

MPAVictoria: historically the root of combining the two activities is that the American-style research university arose as a fusion of the 19th Century German research university model (focused primarily on scholarship and graduate training) with the undergraduate college model, usually religious in origin, that had been the norm in the US since Colonial times. Ever since, whether this merger was a good idea has been a controversial question.

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MPAVictoria 12.16.10 at 4:50 pm

Thank you Steve. I did not know the root of that connection.

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StevenAttewell 12.16.10 at 4:56 pm

To be fair, there used to be such a thing as a teaching faculty – who could often be quite famous and well-respected, like Mark Van Doren. Teaching faculty were expected to be good at teaching in an old-school way, with a slight theatrical flavoring – hit the back row, get that good old Shakespearean-actor-monologue voice going, learn how to peak and valley, end with a crescendo, etc. .

Arguably, we’ve basically returned to this model, with adjunct faculty (and grad students) doing the bulk of the teaching, but without the economic security, respect, or specialized training. And we also expect researchers to teach.

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y81 12.16.10 at 5:40 pm

“if we take most West European countries, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to be roughly similar in general standard of living, then we also see a range of countries with massively different HE systems. Some of these are very elite oriented, others not so much.”

But are we able to demonstrate any correlation between the HE systems and the other characteristics of the various societies, including without limitation their levels of social or economic equality or the welfare of their lowest quintile?

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tomslee 12.16.10 at 5:47 pm

“are we able to demonstrate any correlation between the HE systems and the other characteristics of the various societies”.

Geography is a big one. An elite system requires a large and dense population base.

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ajay 12.16.10 at 5:59 pm

Oliver – isn’t the eliteness under discussion the eliteness of having money? Because I don’t think it’s true that, ceteris paribus, being rich makes you smarter.

“ceteris paribus” is carrying a lot of load here. Yes, it’s true in the sense that if you have a pair of twins who are brought up identically in a rich family, and then one of them loses all his money in a freak accident, he won’t suddenly become much less intelligent than the other. But intelligence – or, not to be invidious, let’s say “potential for future academic achievement” – has a lot to do with nurture as well as nature, and if you’re brought up in a state of severe deprivation, then that’s going to have an impact, even if you attend exactly the same sort of school as everyone else. This is sort of what I was trying to say in 96.

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StevenAttewell 12.16.10 at 6:47 pm

At the same time though, nothing prevents one from combining a “cradle-to-launch” policy with redistribution and with universal higher ed.

So I don’t think it’s fair to say that egalitarian h.e policies necessarily means the mediocratization of elite institutions.

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Oliver 12.16.10 at 7:18 pm

@dsquared, OK, the IAS is a lousy example; what about MIT? Or Stanford?

@Chris Bertram It’s accurate to say that the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have generally similar standards of living, nor do I think standard of living is the relevant measure. All I’m interested in (in this context) is wealth generation, not how that wealth is getting shared around. The US is clearly a lot better at that than the other countries you mentioned (US GDP per capita at PPP is $47k, Australia, next highest on the list, has $40k; the US is 17.5% higher, a non-trivial difference).

The question is; would GDP per capita in the US be as high if all the super-elite universities had been broken up, and their faculties dispersed to regional hubs? I doubt it.

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Oliver 12.16.10 at 7:19 pm

insert: It *isn’t* accurate to say…, obviously.

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John Quiggin 12.16.10 at 7:31 pm

As regards research, there have already been plenty of examples to show that top-quality research can be done in institutions and by people with no involvement in undergraduate teaching (In fact, I’ve been a full-time researcher for most of my career, with only occasional undergraduate teaching. I may not be a world superstar, but my output is comparable with that of many people in the elite institutions we’ve been talking about).

For the converse, US liberal arts colleges provide an excellent education, but don’t produce the kind of cutting-edge research typically associated with a PhD-granting school. And at the individual level, the correlation between research and teaching quality is not high. My guess is that if you want to maximise teaching quality, the best bet would be among academics who are widely read, do some (not necessarily cutting-edge) research, and enjoy things like blogging and public outreach.

To sum up on this, I don’t see any reason why egalitarian provision of post-school education should impose any significant constraint on the way in which research is done.

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John Quiggin 12.16.10 at 7:40 pm

Oliver, we’ve debated the US quite a few times – you should be looking at output per hour worked, not total output, which wipes out most of the US advantage relative to other developed economies.

But in the present context, the relevant comparison is UK vs Australia. The UK has two of the world’s leading universities, and a bunch more that routinely appear in lists of the top 20. Australia has six (at a stretch, eight) unis comparable with the second tier in the UK, or with good state universities in the US. Of these ANU sometimes sneaks into top world 20 lists – it’s top-class in fields like philosophy but those are the exception rather than the rule. The absence of an Australian Cambridge (UK or MA) doesn’t seem to harm the Australian economy relative to that of the UK.

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Rob 12.16.10 at 8:00 pm

The absence of an Australian Cambridge (UK or MA) doesn’t seem to harm the Australian economy relative to that of the UK.

That’s not a good argument against there being Cambridges though. We might imagine Cambridge to be a global public good, generating ideas and advances that are of little benefit, relative to cost, to the host society, but of cost-free benefit to the rest of the world. If every country merely considered its own narrow self-interest and opted for an anti-elitist policy, there might be no Cambridges at all and we would be worse off for it.

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StevenAttewell 12.16.10 at 8:04 pm

One other thing that’s bugged me about elite institutions – size. There’s no reason why a Harvard (not sure about a Cambridge), for example, couldn’t be twice the size they are now and still have the same quality of student – given the number of students they turn down.

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mpowell 12.16.10 at 8:26 pm


In the U.C’s model budget, the student is expected to work enough to save $4,000 a year and take out $5000 a year in loans. A family making $20,000 a year is expected to kick in $9,100 a year (or 45.5% of yearly income), a family making $40,000 will have to come up with $11,600 (or 29% of yearly income), a family making $60,000 will have to come up with $16,100 (26.8%), and a family making $80,000 will have to come up with $22,600 (or 28.25%).

This kind of support is atrocious. A family making 20K/year ends up paying 14K/year in tuition? 15 years ago that was the annual cost of attending a UC. If those numbers are correct, I don’t see why we need to get into debates about utopias to understand that lower class access to HE is far less than it should be. A family making 20K/year should be able to send their kids to a public school for free, with minimal loans.

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Steve LaBonne 12.16.10 at 8:33 pm

There’s no reason why a Harvard (not sure about a Cambridge), for example, couldn’t be twice the size they are now and still have the same quality of student – given the number of students they turn down.

There’s little question about that, and little doubt that it comes down to maintaining snob appeal. Hell, elite but not-quite-Harvard (in perception, not actual quality) institutions like Chicago have lately been working hard to attract more applicants without expanding their freshman class size, just so that they can turn around and reject them, reducing their acceptance rate and therefore looking better in US News. This game has spread well beyond Harvard and it’s pretty obnoxious.

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Steve LaBonne 12.16.10 at 8:36 pm

mpowell, this tragedy is being played out in every state. Elite public universities were once intended as the means of access to a top-quality education for all who can benefit from it, but underfunding has turned that into an unfunny joke.

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Siva Sithraputhran 12.16.10 at 8:37 pm

Part of the problem lies in needing to euphemize universities’ function in reproducing an elite when discussing educational policy.

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y81 12.16.10 at 8:45 pm

“you should be looking at output per hour worked, not total output, which wipes out most of the US advantage relative to other developed economies.”

This position has been gaining some traction among left/liberal economists over the past decade or so, but it remains rather a minority view. It tends to be invoked very selectively. I don’t recall any Krugman columns lauding the dramatic growth in productivity per hour worked during the Bush administration. He was all frothing about the iniquity of the policies that were producing a “jobless recovery.” For that matter, I seem to recall Galbraith treating it as a good thing that the Soviet Union had no unemployment, not as a U.S. strength that we produced lots of stuff without using our entire labor force.

At a minimum, one would have to provide a lot more definition of purposes and evaluation criteria before telling someone that they “ought” to be looking per hour GDP instead of per capita.

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John Quiggin 12.16.10 at 9:13 pm

@Steve Attewell Snap!

@y81, In blog parlance “we’ve debated this quite a few times” means that there are other posts you should read before making comments such as “one would have to provide a lot more definition of purposes and evaluation criteria” with reference to a one-sentence summary. As encouragement for you to learn this obscure piece of jargon, I’ll let you look for the relevant posts yourself.

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andthenyoufall 12.16.10 at 9:33 pm

@118: What would be the point, then? The rejected students are getting similar educations at some other prestigious university, and the applicants as a whole are benefiting from being part of various academic communities which operate on a human scale. Let’s ignore the obvious difficulties with building more lecture halls in Cambridge: if we built a spacious university campus for 50,000 undergraduates out in the cornfields somewhere, shipped all the instructors and students who are currently in the Ivy League to the new campus, and called it “Harvard”, what exactly would that accomplish?

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StevenAttewell 12.16.10 at 10:26 pm

John Quiggan – I’d send you a Coke through the mail, but I think it would be rather warm and shaken up by the time it got to Australia. :)

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StevenAttewell 12.16.10 at 10:34 pm

andthenyoufall – similar, but not equal.In both the U.S and U.K, access to the halls of power is really concentrated at the top, such that even really smart people who get substantially similar educations have quite different outcomes.

The historical example of this has been the U.K Civil Service, where Oxbridge graduates have made up a huge proportion of the top levels (and still form a plurality of the total workforce). The U.S case is a bit trickier, due to the more diffuse power structure, but the current U.S Supreme Court is entirely Ivy League, with 5 Harvard grads, 3 Yalies, and one Columbian.

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Steve LaBonne 12.16.10 at 10:53 pm

Of course, Harvard also has its signal failures at projecting its grads into the power elite, such as me. ;)

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John Quiggin 12.16.10 at 11:00 pm

@126 When we discussed this last time, it turned out only 7 Supremes were Ivy undergrads. Thomas and Scalia went to Catholic undergraduate colleges then on to Ivy League law schools. Doesn’t change the main point of course.

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y81 12.16.10 at 11:36 pm

@127: Yeah, Yale has its failures too.

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andthenyoufall 12.17.10 at 12:39 am

Steven: isn’t this a case of having plus eating? First, it’s not clear whether what bothers you is the elitism of Harvard or the elitism of elite colleges; and while I’ll grant you that Harvard could double the size of its entering class without any huge decline in student quality (the dean of admissions said something equivalent, once), elite colleges as a whole certainly couldn’t double the size of their entering class without dipping down into a different class of applicant.

Second, if the education a student gets at Harvard (or some other prestigious college?) isn’t equal to the education s/he would get at a different college, then why do we imagine that Harvard (or ~?) could double its student body and provide the same education? Is Michael Sandel going to teach courses with 2,000 students, instead of 1,000? Or would Harvard have to scrounge around for twice as many professors to teach its students? I assume this is what you have in mind. But where would those professors come from, who would endow their chairs, who would replace them at their old institutions, and would they be a perfect substitute for the previous professors?

In short, it seems to me that you can either accept that there are no interesting differences between a Harvard education and one at other schools – in which case, why bother? Or there are significant differences – in which case, why would you assume that you can scale it up?

Third, if you’re ultimately concerned not with access to an *education* at a prestigious school but the perks of the prestigious degree, do you really think you can scale that up? Professional schools won’t double their class sizes to accept more Harvard applicants; ex-rowers on Wall Street won’t suddenly have twice as many entry level jobs for rowers; final clubs won’t double in size; famous professors won’t supervise the research of twice as many budding academics.

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Keir 12.17.10 at 1:03 am

103 — I don’t think the argument is that the there shouldn’t be any concentrations of excellence — like, there’s nothing wrong with the top scholars on the late Roman Empire clustering in those departments that are focussed on that. Rather, the argument is there’s no reason that every field should have it’s top people clustered at the same handful of universities.

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bob 12.17.10 at 1:23 am

@37

While it’s obviously true that there are people who could benefit from Oxbridge admission but lack the basic entry requirements, we really don’t know the numbers involved! Not that I don’t agree that the best universities should make more of an effort to widen access, though the best way to do this is really not clear.

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StevenAttewell 12.17.10 at 2:37 am

1st – elite colleges aren’t that big altogether. The whole Ivy League is only 58-odd thousand strong (compared to say, 160,000 at the U.C), undergraduately speaking – Harvard’s just 6,655 strong undergraduately speaking – an entering class of just 1,664. Are you saying out of the entire freshman class of 4.55 million in the U.S, there aren’t another 1-7,000 with 2400 SATs and 4.0 GPAs?

2nd – sure it could; it would just hire more professors and whatnot. The point here isn’t that the actual education is that different from other top universities, but that the brand prestige and the social networks of the Harvards of the world grant an inside track even at the top. I want that inside track broadened, especially as the Harvards of the world are becoming increasingly upper-class in their composition.

3rd – yes, absolutely. It’s not that big a stretch when you’re that tiny to begin with.

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JanieM 12.17.10 at 3:07 am

Are you saying out of the entire freshman class of 4.55 million in the U.S, there aren’t another 1-7,000 with 2400 SATs and 4.0 GPAs?

In 2006 the number of college bound seniors who achieved a score of 2400 was 238.

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StevenAttewell 12.17.10 at 3:10 am

Fair enough, but if we dip down to say, 2300 SAT, we’re up to about 5,000.

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andthenyoufall 12.17.10 at 4:28 am

Steven A. — What I was trying to push you to clarify is now clear: you don’t really care about the details of the student body or the education it would receive (much less the details of hiring “professors and whatnot”), because the real focus of your concern is on the “inside track” that a Harvard diploma grants its graduates. Which is understandable.

But now I want to ask: what kind of inside track are you talking about? I wrote out a long post detailing two alternatives, but I don’t want to be so leading. I’d just ask you for details, noting that I’m skeptical that there exists an “inside track” (i) which would be automatically scaled up in proportion to the size of the student body at the schools currently considered prestigious, (ii) to which it would actually be desirable to grant more, rather than fewer, people access, and (iii) which doesn’t rely ultimately on assumptions about the abilities of the students and the quality of their education .

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StevenAttewell 12.17.10 at 4:38 am

I don’t really care about it because it’s obvious that those things won’t really change. An extra 6,650 students will not change the calibre of the university – but it would improve the odds of making that inside track.

The inside track is basically another word for privilege – I would like the competition for that track to be more open, even if the inside track itself doesn’t expand (which I think it would, unless we’re arguing for some kind of lump of labor theory at the top, although obviously labor demand has to be kept in mind).

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andthenyoufall 12.18.10 at 12:57 am

I’m so utterly confused. The inside track is privilege, okay, but then what is privilege?

What I’m trying to get at is this. A Panglossian, smug labor economist might tell you that the reason why a Harvard diploma opens so many doors (and the next most prestigious diploma opens fewer doors, and so on down the line) is that employers value the intelligence and self-discipline that successful applicants to Harvard have, and the skills and ideas that Harvard’s professors impart. (And likewise, as you descend through diplomas that open fewer doors, that represents slightly less intelligence, self-discipline, and education.) In other words, a Harvard diploma is a signal about the relevant characteristics of the average recipient of a Harvard diploma.

But if this theory of the open doors is true, then doubling or tripling the number of people at each prestigious school would only result, in the end, in fewer, larger schools, rather than in the access of more students to an “inside track”. The professors at American universities would not be imparting more knowledge to students, and the students would not be more intelligent or self-disciplined, so it wouldn’t be possible to raise employers estimation of the skills of various degree holders by doubling the number of students at each school.

On the other hand, someone with a darker view of how doors open up to (some of!) the graduates of prestigious universities would say that there are a certain number of people connected to, say, Harvard who can open doors, and they open doors for a small number of people whom they like, and no one else. A Senator might have lunch with some students, and then recommend that some of them get jobs. A famous professor might work closely with a student on a research project, and then recommend that she be admitted to a PhD program. Or – most likely – an undergraduate social organization which provides a space for rich young men to develop cocaine habits will introduce its current members to alumni, who will help them find suitable jobs on Wall Street.

But if this theory is true, then it’s not clear what doubling the enrollments of prestigious universities accomplishes. It won’t double the number of Senators; it won’t double the number of famous professors, or the number of undergraduate research projects each one supervises; and it certainly won’t double the membership of exclusive undergraduate social organizations, which exist for the sake of exclusivity.

(Or to look at it from the perspective of labor demand, towards which you gestured in your last paragraph: If employers demand workers with a specific bundle of skills and qualities, then demand for Harvard grads might be quite elastic, but only so long as Harvard grads continue to represent the same bundle of skills and qualities. If, on the other hand, employers simply have a number of jobs which they are able to distribute as spoils to people they like, they might not care too much about the skills of the Harvard grads they hire, but doubling the number of Harvard grads won’t double the size of the spoils system.)

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John Quiggin 12.18.10 at 1:11 am

Engels in the other thread requested a reply, then withdrew the request, but is getting it anyway. The statement that, in a situation where everyone pays taxes, and most (but not all) get a benefit funded by those taxes, the remainder are paying taxes for a benefit they don’t receive isn’t an empirical proposition, it’s a logical tautology. The only factual content of the sentence to which Engels objected is the parenthetical insertion that, in a situation where most people get post school education, the minority who don’t will probably on average be poorer (that is, from poorer backgrounds and with poorer lifetime prospects) than the rest. If that’s the “neoliberal factoid” to which engels objects, I’m happy to stand by it.

What I assumed engels to be imputing to me (and denying) was some factual claim along the lines “in the UK at present, the poor, as a group, pay more in taxes to support the higher education system than they receive in benefits from that system”. I pointed out that, as a threshold test for progressiveness, the criterion that the poor get back as much as they pay in is far too weak (compare the argument that the poll tax was equitable since everyone in a given local government area got the same benefit and should pay the same amount). But maybe engels had something else in mind.

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engels 12.18.10 at 1:43 am

in a situation where everyone pays taxes, and most (but not all) get a benefit funded by those taxes, the remainder are paying taxes for a benefit they don’t receive

Everyone in Britain pays taxes. The majority (women) get access to NHS breast cancer screening. The minority (men) do not. So men are paying taxes for a benefit (access to NHS breast cancer screening) they do not receive. And this is ‘inequitable’. Correct?

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engels 12.18.10 at 1:55 am

Or try another one. People in the poorest quintile are less likely to live to retirement, and less likely to live longer after it, than those higher up the income distribution. So many of them are paying for a benefit (state pension over many years) that they do not receive. To avoid his ‘unfairness’ the state pension should be abolished and replaced with private savings schemes…

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engels 12.18.10 at 1:57 am

Perhaps you can see where this leading?

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John Quiggin 12.18.10 at 1:57 am

Just to clarify before responding on this, given your references to “factoids”. Do you have any factual dispute with anything I’ve written or is your argument solely about equity? I’d prefer to deal with factual issues first.

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StevenAttewell 12.18.10 at 2:10 am

andthenyoufall – come on, the impact of alumni networks on access to the top positions is not hard. The old school tie works in a way not dissimilar to internal hiring networks within a corporation, and expanding and making more representative the pool of people who can draw on that network makes that network more open and more meritocratic. I.E, there’s a reason why less than five black applicants were picked for the Civil Service fast-track and it has a lot to do with the racial makeup of Oxbridge.
http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/12/civil-service-complacency-on-black-applicants-is-not-good-enough/

Now, obviously labor demand is an issue. But I find it hard to believe in the extreme that there aren’t 6,655 inner-track jobs out there that couldn’t be filled by a more open Harvard class. It just seems like a strong case too far.

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engels 12.18.10 at 2:11 am

As I said, I disagree with your claim that under a progressive tax system with a strong welfare state and free state education, those who are not in education until 21 ‘pay for benefits they don’t receive’.

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engels 12.18.10 at 2:14 am

(For clarity, I never objected to the claim that people who don’t attend university are likely to earn less, on average, than those that do.)

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andthenyoufall 12.18.10 at 2:33 am

Steven A. — I guess I simply disagree that there are a huge number of Harvard alumni out there who are willing to give a job to an applicant, sight unseen, simply because the applicant has a Harvard degree. There are definitely alumni networks that function through direct social ties (final clubs, sports teams, friends-of-friends). And I’m sure there are Harvard alumni who assume, for the reasons I outlined above, that a Harvard degree is prima facie evidence that the applicant is more qualified than someone with a degree from, say, UCLA. Neither of these mechanisms could help students if we made prestigious schools vastly larger.

A question: would you be equally happy with a system that prohibited job applicants from revealing what university they attended? They could say whether they got a BA, and in what field, but it would be illegal to tell a prospective employer where you went to school, or for him to ask. Would that system provide the kind of equality you’re looking for?

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StevenAttewell 12.18.10 at 2:50 am

Those mechanisms absolutely can help students if we make universities larger and egalitarian. See: Sotomayor, Sonia.

Yes, but such a system cannot really exist. You can’t stop people from using cultural capital without having someone present at every job interview, and you couldn’t prevent recruiters using particular campuses as hunting grounds to get around that.

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John Quiggin 12.18.10 at 6:12 am

@147 Engels, this now seems to me to be a purely semantic dispute. Clearly, the people in question pay taxes, some portion of these taxes may be assumed to finance post-school education services and, by definition, they don’t receive those services. I assume you have some definitions of terms in mind under which this does not translate into “those who are not in education until 21 ‘pay for benefits they don’t receive’.” Probably, it’s better to focus the dispute on equity rather than semantics.

In this respect, maybe your breast cancer example will help, even at the risk of venturing further on to the slippery ground of analogy. Starting with the original post, there is no requirement in equity that everyone should get the same services. So, lets look at two cases I would consider inequitable
(i) Cancers affecting one gender are treated with lavish high-quality care and good outcomes , those affecting the other gender get much lower quality care and poorer outcomes (particularly if the disparity reinforces other inequalities in society).
(ii) Hospital services including cancer treatment are provided to all, on an equitable basis, but some people suffer from problems that aren’t amenable to hospital treatment and they get no help and even worse outcomes on average

Roughly speaking, I’d say the current situation of post-school education in most developed countries is inequitable in both respects – those attending elite universities get the best deal, the lower tiers get less and those who go straight into low-paid jobs get nothing.

If we reached the hypothetical situation I was talking about, where free post-school education was equitably funded, we would have resolved problem (i), but not problem (ii), which is obviously more intractable. Hence the idea of funding other options for those who don’t want/can’t benefit from more education.

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engels 12.18.10 at 6:07 pm

People in the poorest quintile(s) pay taxes. They also receive financial benefits from the government (eg. income support, unemployment benefit) and benefits in kind (education, housing, health care, council services, etc). If the tax and welfare system is adequately re-distributive the amount of benefits would be on average greater than the amount of taxes they pay, so they are net recipients of funds from the government. People in the higher quintiles otoh would pay more in taxes than they receive in services. Given this situation, how does it make sense to think of those in the lower quintiles as ‘paying’ for those services that are provided to those in the higher quintiles?

You also seem to suggest in some places anybody who pays taxes, and doesn’t receive a given publically funded service, has some claim of justice that they are being unfairly treated. I think that is ridiculous, and it leads swiftly to the conclusion that any public provision of services that are not provided to all taxpayers is ‘unfair’.

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Norwegian Guy 12.19.10 at 3:31 am

My starting point is that, in a modern society and economy, nearly everyone needs to finish high school and the great majority need further education (academic, professional/technical or vocational) beyond that, if they are to thrive and prosper.

Such claims are often made, but to what extent are they true? Currently a minority attends higher education, and I have a hard time seeing this change to a great majority anytime soon, Not because of a lack of availability, but because there’s hardly more than 50% of the population who wants to continue schooling beyond the age of 18/19. It may be hard for academics to fathom, but many high school kids are bored of school and wants to get a job rather than continuing schooling for even more years. And there will still be a need for non-higher educated occupations in the future. Carpenters, cooks, nursing assistants and other high school+apprenticeship-educated won’t suddenly disappear. The will even be a need for unskilled people.

Roughly speaking, I’d say the current situation of post-school education in most developed countries is inequitable in both respects – those attending elite universities get the best deal, the lower tiers get less and those who go straight into low-paid jobs get nothing.

If we reached the hypothetical situation I was talking about, where free post-school education was equitably funded, we would have resolved problem (i), but not problem (ii), which is obviously more intractable. Hence the idea of funding other options for those who don’t want/can’t benefit from more education.

While people on average earn more the longer education they got, it does depend on what kind of education and occupation they’ have. It’s not necessarily the case that people without higher education “go straight into low-paid jobs”. At least in Norway, several occupations without higher education are better paid than some college- or university-educated occupations. Many skilled (and some unskilled) industrial workers earn more than many college-educated people in the public sector. For instance, electricians and mechanics often have higher earnings than nurses and teachers, at least when you take into account the earnings they lose in the years they attend college.

Is it really unfair that the nurse and the teacher get a free college education? If they had to pay for it, wouldn’t that lead to fewer people taking such educations, which again would lead to a shortage of personnel for important parts of the welfare state. Alternatively, that salaries for public employees with higher education would have to be raised. It’s hard to see how either outcome benefits lower-income groups.

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John Quiggin 12.19.10 at 3:48 am

@Norwegian guy, as I’ve said quite a few times already, I’m not excluding training to be an electrician, mechanic, carpenter etc. from my discussion. All of these need post-school education, whether in a traditional apprenticeship (getting rare these days in a lot of trades) or in a technical institute of some kind.

I don’t know where to get data for Norway, but in most English-speaking countries, kids with high-school only (or less), and no trade training, mostly get low-paid jobs with few prospects. The US is particularly stark in this respect.

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John Quiggin 12.19.10 at 4:04 am

@engels: If your criterion for equity is that the poorest quintile should get back at least as much in services as they pay in taxes, then my comment at 23 is applicable. Suppose for concreteness that the bottom 20 per cent pays 5 per cent of total taxes. Then, if they got 5 per cent of NHS services (that is, one quarter of the average provision for the population as a whole), your criterion would be satisfied.

156

engels 12.19.10 at 4:11 am

How does the UK Education Maintenance Allowance (recently abolished) fit into the Quiggin Theory of Justice? Given what you have written above, I assume you likewise think it was UNFAIR because kids who left school at 16 and got jobs did not receive it but still ended up paying taxes…

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engels 12.19.10 at 4:14 am

Sorry, the last comment was unduly sarcastic. Leaving aside the tone, though, I’d still like to know whether you would attack the EMA.

#155 It’s not my criterion of equity. I’m a socialist so (to put it briefly) I believe that peoples needs should be met regardless of their contributions to economic production. It’s an attempt to follow-through on the logic of your argument.

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engels 12.19.10 at 4:40 am

Or to put it another way: I think that those in the lowest quintile should get much more in material terms than they currently get. I just don’t think the reason for this is that they are currently paying for stuff they don’t receive. And I don’t think that privatising post-16 education and distributing the proceeds as Ackerman-style grants would a a step forward.

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John Quiggin 12.19.10 at 10:51 am

Engels, I’ve obviously pushed some hot button with the point about the poor paying taxes and not receiving services, to the point that you manage to read this as support for “privatising post-16 education”. Bear in mind that I don’t live in the UK, and am not aware of the interpretative codes that prevail there. As a result, something that appears to me as a plain statement of fact seems to you to carry all manner of sinister implications that I don’t intend.

So, while I don’t particularly see any need to change what I wrote, you may prefer to ignore any references to payment or taxes and read what I said as “a situation where most people get the post-school education they need but some (mostly poor) people miss out is inequitable”. Hopefully, we can agree on that.

As regards EMA, my view, consistent with everything I’ve said previously is that
(i) EMA looks like an advance on a situation where only the well-off stay at school past 16 (or whatever the leaving age is in the UK)
(ii)Nevertheless, I would want to see evidence that there were well-funded policy initiatives aimed at helping those who left school and didn’t get EMA.

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engels 12.19.10 at 5:09 pm

Engels, I’ve obviously pushed some hot button with the point about the poor paying taxes and not receiving services

FFS. What I specifically objected to in your post is the following statement:

[it is inequitable that] the minority (probably poorer on average) [ie. those who leave education before 21 and go on to earn lower wages and pay lower taxes on average] pay for benefits they don’t receive

I’ve explained — quite carefully in some places, eg. 152 — what I still think is obviously wrong with this and why it leads easily to a pro-privatisation policy agenda. I don’t think you’ve given a serious response, leaving aside the unconvincing amateur philosophy in #141 about it being a ‘logical tautology’. Otherwise, your only response has been
(i) lame jokes about the meaning of ‘post-natal care’
(ii) repeating it in a separate post and deleting objections
(iii) speculating about my motives
(iv) making patronising claims that as a British person I can’t debate this topic without getting emotional
(v) goal-post shifting

Further engagement on this issue is clearly not a good use of either of our time.

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John Quiggin 12.19.10 at 9:48 pm

Agreed. We are talking past each other on this one.

162

bread & roses 12.20.10 at 7:30 am

Rob@70:
“My software engineer’s utopia is that 18-year-olds would be taken on by employers, with free high-quality theory education taking up about a year in total, spread over their first three years of employment. Instead of >£10k of debt, they’d make a profit as they’d be being paid (albeit not much, perhaps) for their work. I’ve no idea how this would generalise into other subjects.”

You’ve just re-invented the apprenticeship system, which has served very well as the higher education for the lower and middle classes since before the university system was invented. It generalizes very well into other subjects- if it is set up, and if some other conditions are in place.

I think an apprenticeship system requires a guild or union to be successful. It may not appear that way on the surface, but without a guild or union to 1. control the downward push on wages that will always come from the corporation and 2. prevent the corporation from hollowing out the apprenticeship, it will become an empty credential. In the US, building trades apprenticeships are controlled by joint employer-union committees, and the employers constantly push to have requirements watered down, and the unions constantly push to make sure the apprentices have been given a thorough education by the time they journey out. In my trade this system is breaking down, because the social contract that led to crusty, grumpy old journeymen showing the younguns the ropes is also breaking down. In the middle of the last century, those crusty old journeymen could imagine that the younguns they had at their side were stand-ins for their own sons and nephews; they might know the old journeyman who was teaching their own son, and be watching him. They were given an education, an entry into a secure, dignified, and prosperous middle class life, and they passed that along to those who they could see as following in their footsteps. Rather similar to the brotherhood of upper-crust English fellows at Oxbridge in the middle of the past century, I imagine.

In the 70s many unions were forced to integrate and had to allow in a lot of non-white, and even some non-male, apprentices. They also lost the residential building market, and lost tremendous market share. The old guard no longer had a grip on the market. With the unions much weaker in the union-employer power struggle, the training of apprentices is no longer consistent. Some companies conscientiously rotate apprentices among different apprentices and specialties to develop them as journey workers; others just use them as cheap labor and lay them off when they reach 4th bracket. It’s bad for the future of the industry, but what company can afford to care about the future of the industry when there are quarterly profits to be made?

Unions or guilds, if they are powerful, can look out for the future of the industry and have an incentive to insure good education of apprentices. They can also use their power to shut out minorities, women, the poor, or whoever doesn’t belong to the club, and increase inequality. But with no brake whatsoever on entry into the labor market, wages race to the bottom.

This whole debate about access to higher education would be less important if, as JQ points out, there were less inequality of outcome, and if a trades education- whether in plumbing, accounting, home health care, or software engineering- were run through apprenticeships and resulted in reasonable access to jobs that paid a good living wage for a middle-class existence, whether bright young people were shut out of Oxbridge would matter a great deal less. And unions, regulated credentials, or other restrictions to entry into the labor market are what produce a living wage. Unions have not always been fair stewards of that access to that modest wealth. (2% female participation in the building trades after forty years of pressure). But universities are hardly better.

And there is great benefit to having a diversity of restricted institutions that lead to a secure and decent wage. For the bright, articulate, and organized, there is higher education. For the physically talented, there are the building trades. Women and minorities are (currently) out of luck, but being a felon is no barrier to a long and productive career as a pipefitter. We need these spaces in society for people who succeed and fail at different things, and I think having a bunch of them that have different sets of discrimination may be as good as we can get. The problem in the US is that both higher education and the more lucrative unions discriminate strongly against blacks, and the trades and IT discriminate strongly against women, leaving those groups entirely out in the cold. (probably other groups too, though those are the ones I’m familiar with).

There are hairdressing and cosmetician apprenticeships in many US states, too. But without any body to protect the wages of hairdressers and cosmeticians, they are of little value to the prosperity of their students, whether they impart useful training or not.

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engels 12.20.10 at 9:14 pm

Guardian: Students win trade union support for tuition fees protest

Students protesting against increased tuition fees and cuts to education spending have won pledges of trade union support ahead of their next demonstration in London on 29 January. The fourth national protest, organised by the National Campaign Against Cuts and Fees and the Education Activist Network, will be the first since the chaotic scenes in the centre of the capital on 9 December, the day MPs voted in favour of the bill allowing tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year. [...]

The two organising groups asked unions to assist in “a united struggle to defend education”. Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB union, replied: “Can I express complete support for the call for opposition to the disgraceful and immoral attacks on access to education which these latest fee rates represent? It was bad enough having tuition fees to start with, but these attacks – dressed up as being required because of the banking crisis – really are immoral.” Len McCluskey, the new leader of Unite, said unions had been “put on the spot” by the student demonstrations. “Their mass protests against the tuition fees increase have refreshed the political parts a hundred debates, conferences and resolutions could not reach,” he said. [...]

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engels 12.21.10 at 1:39 am

RMT calls for full support for student fees protests December 7 2010

… RMT has written to all its branches and is directly emailing and texting members urging them to support the local protests on Wednesday and the national protest on Thursday – the day of the Commons vote. RMT General Secretary Bob Crow, who will be speaking at the 3pm rally at the Westminster end of Victoria Embankment on Thursday 9 December, said:

“Last week students supported our tube members on their picket lines and this week we will be out shoulder to shoulder with the students in their protests over the jacking up of tuition fees. It is essential that the entire Labour and Trade Union Movement gives full support to the student protests – this extraordinary grass roots movement has caught the ConDems on the hop and when your enemy is reeling you don’t give them a chance to regroup, you mobilise the maximum pressure that you can and that’s what RMT is doing right now.” [...]

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engels 12.21.10 at 1:46 am

166

Norwegian Guy 12.21.10 at 12:47 pm

Yes, your proposals makes sense now. I was thinking of vocational schooling and training as a part of the (upper) secondary education system.

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engels 12.21.10 at 1:21 pm

EMA is an incentivive for disadvantaged kids to stay in school rather than leave and try to earn money. Ie. it is a payment for them to do what the state would like them to do and what it believes is in their own long-term best interests. But on the Quiggin view any such incentive payment is ‘unfair’ because those who do not take it up not only have a worse long-term outcome AND do not receive the payment. The only way to mitigate the unfairness is to either (i) abolish the payment (ii) pay benefits of equivalent value to those who do not take it up, which effectively destroys the incentive (this seems to be what is suggested in 159). This does seem like Jerry-Cohenism gone mad…

re the ‘Back to the 90s’ proposal to institute a universal Ackerman-style stakeholder grant which could be used for education or other equally valuable activities, like starting a business… Afaics this would necessitate charging tuition fees, ergo it is not consistent with ‘free universal education’ and is a form of privatisation, albeit one in which everyone is given funds which it is expected that the majority would use to ‘buy’ what used to be provided for free, outside of the market, as a universal right. But perhaps I have misunderstood… (I sincerely hope so.)

And this is leaving aside the stuff like

So, defending that system against change, even change that will make things worse, is difficult and problematic.

of which the only positive thing that can be said is that thankfully few of us in the UK are likely to pay the slightest attention.

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piglet 12.22.10 at 1:40 am

engels (3 and 9) is completely right. John Quiggin accepts the premise that here is no such a thing as education as a public good that should be paid for by the public. When you start the debate by accepting that, you have already lost (if your objective is any kind of progressive reform). Why are we publicly funding libraries, parks, etc. (if we do)? There’s a chance that these institutions are used more relatively speaking by the middle class than by the poor. If we see that as a problem, the solution isn’t to give up the idea of providing public goods. The solution is to find ways of getting more out of them for the poor. I don’t think it would be very hard for the government to develop reforms based on that goal if that really were the goal. Of course it isn’t.

I have to say that I found JQ’s opening statement, accusing the protesting students of defending an unfair status quo (as if they were the ones who invented it), condescending and short-sighted in the extreme and I am really pissed to be honest with you. If that is where progressive debate has gotten to there’s no surprise society is taking giant steps backwards to 19th century social darwinism.

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piglet 12.22.10 at 1:56 am

JQ 159: I am really wondering, have you obtained any information about this issue from sources other than pro-government, like, say, have you made any effort to take note of the positions and arguments of the students? The impression is that your are buying wholesale into the right-wing pro-fee propaganda. There must be something strange going on.

Thanks for bringing up these facts, engels (163 etc).

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