Education: for life, not for profit

Submitted by Matthew on 26 March, 2014 - 11:08

The coalition government, building on New Labour, is pushing to shape education more and more along capitalist market standards and criteria.

They dare not making schooling just something bought and sold on the market. Even if they don’t care that barring children of worse-off parents from schooling would be unjust, they concede that it would produce an unqualified workforce and a brutalised society.

Insanely, though, they continue with the superstition that, short of that full-scale marketisation, the closer they can bring education to capitalist norms of competition and capitalist norms of management, the better.

Schooling is geared more and more to “marketable” scores and assessments. Students are pushed to get GCSE grades which will “buy” jobs, or “buy” a chance to do A-levels.

They are pushed to get the A-level grades which “buy” a place at a rich university. At university they are pushed to get the degree result which “buys” a good job.

With that pseudo-market metric as basis, school is pushed into competition with school, teacher with teacher, student with student.

The new methods for that are the vast expansion of academies and free schools, and the comprehensive roll-out of performance-related pay for teachers.

57% of secondary schools in England are now academies (though, as yet, only 11% of primaries). There are now 125 state-funded “free schools” either open or planned.

All these schools compete with each other to get students and sponsors. As they feed off each other, an army of lawyers, head-hunters, accountants, estate agents and management consultants feed off them, siphoning away a total of £77 million since May 2010.

Schools have ever more top-heavy structures of management piled on them. A year ago, 700 head teachers in England were getting £100,000 a year, and 200 more than £110,000.

The boss of one chain of state-funded academy schools got almost £320,000 — plus pension contributions — in a 12-month period.

Many get bonuses. In a court case in October 2013, a retired head teacher was given a suspended sentence because he had paid himself, three staff members and two governors a total of £2.7 million over some years through bonuses and salaries.

Teachers’ pay now depends on “performance”, measured largely through their students’ “marketable” scores. Under that pressure, average work hours for teachers have increased by nine per week to 60 for primary teachers, by six per week to 56 for secondary, since 2010. 40% of new teachers drop out of the job within five years.

Universities now compete harshly for the “best” students — from 2013 they can enrol as many students with ABB or better A-level grades as they like — and the fees they bring.

Getting the “best” students, and paying fancy salaries to prestigious professors, enables rich universities to stay rich, because their ex-students then get posh jobs and can be tapped for donations and bequests.

To run this sort of university, you need not someone who cares about ideas or education, but a crazed capitalist manager type with a brain stuffed full of stupid “managerial” buzzwords and a huge salary.

Russell Group (rich) university bosses are now on about £250,000 a year, and in 2012-13 they got an average pay rise of more than £22,000 (8%).

To the student, education is increasingly presented as an “investment”. If you stay on at school, then go to university and pay fees, and if you jump through the right hoops to get “marketable” scores, you will get a “return on your investment” by higher pay. What you learn or don’t learn is by the way.

This capitalist-oriented education is not even utilitarian, though some socialists indict it as such. Much of the stuff crammed into current school syllabuses is about as utilitarian as an old-fashioned wing-tip collar.

It is narrow, stunted, and stunting. Even where it teaches good content, it addles and taints it with the compulsion to compete.

Students, teachers, education workers, parents - unite and fight for education which enlarges life rather than stunting it!

Higher education tuition fee system is failing

Despite the rise in tuition fees to £9,000-a-year for UK students and scrapping of most direct funding to universities, the new higher education funding framework is likely to cost the state more than the system it replaced.

An increasing number of graduates are failing to pay back their student loans. Repayments are linked to earnings. Graduates repay their loans when they earn over £21,000.

In 2010, the government estimated that 28% of loans would never be recovered. Persistently low wages for young adults and the stormy economic outlook have led the civil service to revise down its estimates of the proportion of loans that will be paid back. New official forecasts suggest write-offs at 45%.

This is approaching the level at which the government will not have saved any money from implemented the new system. Analysis from London Economics says that, “if the estimated... [proportion of the fee and maintenance loans never recovered] increases beyond 48.6 per cent, the economic cost of the 2012-13 higher education reforms will exceed the 2010-11 system that it replaced”.

There is also evidence that the new system, taken by itself, is already costing the government more, as the figures include the expense of writing off loans under both the old and new systems. According to the same analysts, the write-off costs for the new system may already have reached 50%.

These revised estimates are probably linked to the government’s decision to cut funding in other parts of the 2014-15 higher education budget.

The failure of the government to save any money from the new system should not be surprising. Although the need to bring down the deficit was used publicly to justify the rise in fees, transferring higher education funding on to the backs of individual students was always mainly about creating a controlled market in the sector. The new system has accelerated the restructuring of higher education around the principles of competition and profit, with institutions striving against each other to attract students.

The public failure of the new system creates a opportunity to re-open the debate on higher education funding. As Andrew McGettigan has said: “Any claim to savings from the new regime has disappeared and we now need an urgent inquiry into the whole scheme. Something is seriously awry and we need clarification on what this might mean for other aspects of the higher and further education budgets.”

The Tories could now look at cutting the threshold at which graduates start paying back their loans. They could also raise the rate of repayment, which was already hiked once 2010.

Though they opposed raising fees to £9,000, it was the Labour Party which introduced fees in the first place. Labour is committed to reducing the cap on fees to £6,000. And it is still committed to the principle that it is individual students who should bear the burden of paying for education (potentially through a graduate tax).

Left-wing student activists need to intervene in these debates arguing explicitly for free, publicly-funded education at all levels, and should aim to build lively activist groups on every campus to organise around these ideas.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) exists to give a national expression to local anti-cuts groups and develop ideas for the student movement as a whole.

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