Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Education: rationing by scarcity or by price?

The dread news comes through- conveniently enough just at the beginning of the negotiations for the new year's University funding- the UK has fallen drastically in the number of graduates per capita that it is producing. We are now apparently supposed to be shocked that such countries as Slovakia and Slovenia are now above the UK in the OECD ranking. Well, could it be that this is because these countries have only just joined the OECD, so their statistics are only now being included for the first time? In which case, the UK can certainly expect to be behind Estonia, when they join the OECD early next year, since about 40% of the Estonian population takes some kind of further education or training.

Even if there is a genuine problem, given the propensity, even willingness, of graduates from Slovakia or Poland to come to the UK, does it mean that there has to be any change in the UK-s overall competitiveness? The fact is that the British education system, though not quite such a bastion of Spanish practices and corruption as the United States, is still failing to deliver the right mixture of skills at the right price. It is quite clear that funding in certain sectors needs to be increased, but every time Universities get increases in funding, they tend to distribute it to the cheaper subjects- an awful lot of gender theory in theatre arts and not enough chemistry. Yet to argue with the Universities is to threaten their cherished "academic freedom"- a freedom that gives equal validity to queer studies and physics. If we are not producing engineers, at least the Slovaks are, and we can hire them.

In fact, I am clearly being over flippant- but unless or until either graduates are asked to repay the cost of their education, whether through direct graduate taxation, or some increment of income tax, or- better still- unless the Universities become genuinely independent of state control: especially in the way that they can charge fees, then University places will be rationed by scarcity and not by price.

It ain't pretty, but the choice really is that simple: Ration by price, or ration by scarcity.

1 comment:

Dilettante said...

Universities being able to charge market fees is the best approach - otherwise you simply penalise people who use degrees well.