Comment: Our education system isn’t working for anyone

Half of graduates work in a career unrelated to their field of study, and the majority work in non-graduate level roles


Our education system is in collapse, and Britain’s students know it. Graduates today face debts of £45,000 or more as they emerge into a barren job market, often after spending their time at university with fewer than five hours of teaching a week. As a result of the government’s decision to scrap maintenance grants, this debt will now be significantly higher for the poorest students.

While vice-chancellors and senior bureaucrats line their pockets with extortionate pay rises, lecturers face ever-tougher terms of employment.

The marketisation of the education system, with its focus on research ‘outputs’ and its reductive approach to the value of education, is cheating our generation. Students today are sold a degree at huge cost as a ticket to a higher wage bracket – but this is a false promise.

As the price of education has risen, its value has fallen; as the job market is ‘flooded’ with graduates, we’re forced into lower and lower level employment – simultaneously meaning that a degree has become a requirement for more and more jobs. Half of graduates work in a career unrelated to their field of study, and the majority work in non-graduate level roles.

At the same time, practical and vocational education is being decimated, with further education budgets falling by 24 per cent since 2009-10 and up to a quarter of colleges facing bankruptcy within a year. The UK is facing a massive skill shortage, particularly in sectors such as manufacturing and construction, which can clearly be linked to the government’s failure to fund high-quality vocational training.

It’s not just about funding, however. It’s about a system which tells young people that a degree is the only kind of education worth having, while making that level of education increasingly inaccessible; which treats vocational education as worthless while reducing academic education to nothing more than a commodity.

This system doesn’t work for anyone.

Today, the Young Greens will be joining students from across the country to demand an end to it: an end to extortionate tuition fees, to vicious cuts to student support, and to the government’s exploitative and violent attitude to international students.

And we’ll be demanding something better. We know that another education system is possible: a system which values education for its own sake, recognises the worth of vocational education, and puts the needs of students first.

The first and most fundamental step is to make education free. We could do this very easily, by increasing the amount of corporation tax paid by large companies to match the level in other G7 countries, and ring-fencing part of that money for education funding.

We need to break down all barriers to education, by restoring living grants and providing better support to mature students and disabled students. We need to increase funding for further education, ensure that all FE courses are free, and restore the Education Maintenance Allowance.

Ultimately, we need to recognise that education is a public good. It creates a healthier, more equal, and more participatory society; and in a country where our infrastructure is crumbling and our economy dangerously out of balance, an investment in the skills and knowledge of young people and students is an investment in the future.

It’s clear that the government is refusing to listen to the voices crying out for an end to the marketisation of our education system. But it’s equally clear that a movement is building across the country and across the political spectrum for something new, and that that movement will not be silenced. And until we have built an education system which is fit for purpose, Young Greens will be front and centre in the movement for change.

Sophie van der Ham is co-chair of the Young Greens

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