This week I’ve been busily marking my final student assignments in the build up to my last day as a higher education lecturer in my current job next week. It’s my last day because I’m taking redundancy (redundancy itself is not the subject of this blog post though – although certainly something I plan to come back to in the future), and my redundancy is simply indicative of what’s currently happening across higher education, and across the public sector generally.
I came in to higher education around three and a half years ago now, to teach on a professional graduate training programme in youth and community work practice. The journey that programme has been on over the last few years has been a predicable one: massive cuts in public sector spending has resulted in far fewer employer sponsored candidates, massive increases in course fees has resulted in far fewer direct entry candidates. These two factors, combined with changes in higher education funding, has produced a somewhat lethal cocktail for the programme I work on – and to vocational training in general.
The implications of all of this though is far more significant than my own personal circumstances –
Youth services have – and still are being – cut at a time when our young people couldn’t need them more. Youth unemployment continues to rise, access to post-compulsory education is once again mainly restricted to those with affluent parents, and families buckle under the ever increasing pressure of the discrepancy between diminished incomes and rises in living costs.
Then, look at the state of higher education – with fees of up to £27,000 on most HE courses (before you even begin to factor in general living expenses), prospective students are having to make very tough choices about the type of HE study to pursue. It doesn’t take a maths graduate to calculate that leaving university with a debt equivelent to a second mortgage must surely mean that you need to secure good odds of achieving an income to match post-qualifying. There are not that many nurses, teachers, youth workers, social workers, nursery nurses etc. who can afford a second mortgage alone – so where will these people come from in the future? Where will the historians, sociologists, artists, philosophers, geography teachers etc. of tomorrow come from also? We might well yet end up with a nation of rich doctors, lawyers, and architects – but who will look after their children, teach them to read and write, and provide places for them to go and learn informally whilst they negotiate their adolescence?
It seems to me that what we really need now, beyond anything else, is a sense of balance. I worked in the public sector in the heyday of the labour years and, yes (if I’m really honest) there was far too much money knocking around at times. There were times when we were practically begging people to take jobs that they were barely qualified to do – and anyone who’s worked in the public sector and tells you they haven’t frantically tried to spend money in the last few weeks of the financial year so as not to lose it from next year’s budget is, quite frankly, lieing. But then I also remember working in the public sector prior to the ‘new’ labour government in 1997 – when provision would shut in January because the money for that year had, quite literally, run out. We owe it to ourselves not to go back to the noughties, but we also owe it to ourselves not to go back to the nineties either.
To use the ever popular household analogy: yes, we do need to pay off the credit card – but we still need to put food on the table in the meantime.