Yesterday had one of the best moments in my life. I watched my son graduate. The ceremony of dressing up in medieval clothing - the more colour, the more qualified, seems a little pompous and dated, yet actually demonstrates the importance and achievement of the person receiving the degree. Regardless of fees, (which I will mention later), its a massive thing to have achieved - leaving home at 18, on your own, to create a new set of friends, pushing yourself, rather than being pushed, to get up, go to lectures, complete work, and then at the end of it, sitting exams in an incredible bubble of pressure as everyone around you is focusing on Finals.
Degree - job done, one educated, level headed lad let loose on the world to make his way. That's all a parent can do, its now all down to him. The point was very clearly made twice during the ceremony. Once by the Chancellor, who emphasized how good a Sheffield degree is in terms of currency - top 10 university, in the UK, top 100 in the World is pretty good to me. It was made more forcibly by one of the guys getting an honourary doctorate. Ed Hill, who is head of the UK's Oceanography unit, told us a bit about his life. He graduated in 1981, which puts him about my age. First one in the family to go to university (ditto) and graduate, he recognised what his degree did for him in terms of his hopes and aspirations for a better life. True social mobility. He was enabled by the same grant system that allowed me to go. Could my parents have afforded to let me go? Possibly, but with a great deal of personal sacrifice and second jobs for all. (And my dad was of a generation when a daughter's role was to get married.) Would I at that time taken on debt? At that time probably not, as I was brought up to only lend money for a house. So I probably wouldn't have gone, and missed a fantastic life changing opportunity, which was the point Ed Hill made.
He told us that every third breath that we take is created by bacteria in the ocean - which is dying. Without his unit and others like it we won't solve the problem of increased population, decreasing resources. Malthus may yet still be proved right. But with starting out in life with debt of £40 thousand +, would this guy from a lower middle class background have gone? His brains lost to the world forever, as he couldn't afford to go, and would probably be an accountant in a practice somewhere (he was good at applied maths).
Our parents paid taxes for us to go, and on my reckoning this guy is on £100k+, so is on 40% tax, so over the 30 years since he graduated, he's more than paid that free education back. Students are now paying for a degree three times. Their parents through taxes once, then through the loan scheme, and then through the alleged extra earnings when they graduate. And yet the stupid short term governments of all colours since the war have wasted our taxes on vain-glorious projects - The Millenium Dome, Olympics, High Speed 2 being three recent examples. We thought we were paying for education and pensions, both of which are being withdrawn from us slowly.
I forsee a future when very educated intelligent graduates come out of university with £40,000 of debt to find that they never ever clear it, because they can only get a job in a call centre at minimum wage. These will not be the Media Studies graduates from the University of Burton, but the high fliers who went on the belief they were getting a better life.This will lead to civil unrest that the Government (of whatever colour) cannot control because they will be able to mobilise, organise and articulate. Either that or they will leave for sunnier climes where they are appreciated, and not have to face jobes of lazy students, 'I'm from the University of Life -me' type comments.
The country is in danger of under-investment in our children. The problem solvers (and higher tax payers) of the next generation. High Speed 2 or more science graduates - I know where my investment would go.
Start - The Jam - ironically was in the charts when I graduated, and was played in the Students Union yesterday when we fetched sandwiches. PS on such a big day I would've prefered a nice lunch out.