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Posts Tagged ‘Business’

Debt Management to Become a Standalone Course in High Schools.

19/10/2010 6 comments

Come on, it might as well be.

Lord Browne and his team issued a report on October 12th detailing the direction higher education must go because of this economic climate. We have just seen a defence review today which is cutting 42,000 jobs in the Ministry of Defence, affecting RAF, Navy, Army and civilian positions. Where do they go? Who cares! Oh, you do.

The country is on a downward downsizing spiral because of the gluttony and risk taking from the guys at the top.

Our education system has long been identified as a sector in dire need of reform, yet has gone without the attention it deserves because of the turbulent decade we have just experienced. We have been involved in two messy wars, terrorism on our shores and endured a recession so huge the effects will be felt for many years to come.

What do we know about this system which is responsible for moulding the next generation of workers, thinkers, innovators, and moralisers? Its benefits include a tuition fee cap that normalises the financial circumstances in which one can enter higher education. Then there are drawbacks, such as the rigidity of assessment procedures and the linearity of teaching.

Browne’s report aims to address the impending spending cuts which will affect higher education institutions. The cuts, which will be announced formally tomorrow, will severely squeeze an institution’s funds for teaching and research, so the impetus is on the universities to generate their own funding through private means.

I agree with the purpose of this report – to reform higher education, and later hopefully secondary education – but this effectively means the marketisation of the higher education sector.

This is a kind of a big deal. For a country which did not even charge students tuition fees a little over 12 years ago, we have rapidly got to the point where we are thinking of removing the fee cap altogether. How can something as important as a fee cap, in terms of contributing to social mobility and offering something towards building a true meritocracy, be scrapped?

 

System not responsive to the changing skills needs of the economy.
Analysis from the UKCES suggests that the higher education system does not produce the most effective mix of skills to meet business needs. 20% of businesses report having a skills gap of some kind in their existing workforce, up from 16% since 2007.

The CBI found that 48% of employers were dissatisfied with the business awareness of the graduates they hired. This evidence suggests there needs to be a closer fit between what is taught in higher education and the skills needed in the economy. It also adds force to the argument for helping existing workers to enter part time study and improve their skills.

 Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education in England, p.23

On the face of it, all this means is that higher education must adapt to the business market and provide a business friendly skill-set. This is one of the underlying assumptions of this report, and one which it is guided by the will to massage the various business interests which would like to see students develop skills the businesses want.

This is vitally important. The question which is ignored in this report, and any report which first considers the requirements of current short-term gains focused business first, is what should be dictated by what? Should what we study determine the jobs which are created, or should the existing jobs created by existing managers determine what we study?

Again, on the face of it, it is ridiculous to consider someone graduating from a philosophy degree starting a career as a full-time philosopher. However, isn’t it equally as ridiculous (to add very unjust) for someone who has an incredible grasp of history to enter employment as a sales representative, assuming that isn’t their burning desire?

Business can never be allowed to dictate our education because a homogenised education system, i.e. one tailored to meet the demands of business, will destroy diversity and positively halt innovation, condemning us to endlessly trying to meet unrealistic targets which exist in some areas of the working world.

What about employers who value employees with unique skill and knowledge sets, who are able to contribute creatively, rather than mechanically?

But no, lets roundly blame the beleaguered education system for not producing them while largely ignoring the employment market which does not welcome them. Schools are flooded with restrictive paperwork from the government while university leavers have to endure the rhetoric of business interests. We are being made to focus on only one of the two fronts.

 

Quality.
Students are no more satisfied with higher education than ten years ago. Employers report that many graduates lack the skills they need to improve productivity. Institutions have no access to additional investment to pay for improvements to the courses they provide. In any case the incentives for them to improve the student experience are limited.

p.23

 

Why is that? Well, it is easy to see that the blame for a graduate’s frustration falls squarely on the institution or course he has just left, either by misinforming him about prospects, or teaching him self-indulgent skills which are not easily transferable. We never really look at the employment sector to identify the great disconnect between it and our education too.

Business must be put in the spotlight. Also, we must stop using the word “economy” interchangeably with “business” in the first place, as, rather cannily, “economy” seems to have this more inclusive connotation, whereas “business” seems to describe some arbitrary organisation apart from the consumer, and crucially, with little interest in the consumer.

All in all, just another marketing ploy the government and big business utilise to dull our sensibilities when faced with their simplistic solutions (to their problems). Before even looking at the outrageous numbers, the first principle underpinning this report fails quite astonishingly:

 

Principle 1: There should be more investment in higher education – but institutions will have to convince students of the benefits of investing more.

p.24

 

I have emboldened the word “convince” not only to draw attention to it, but simply to underline it’s boldness. Students evidently are not willing to pay any more for their education, but will be powerless if universities impose higher fees to generate funding. There are a lot of problems with this strategy, never mind the numbers it entails.

Firstly, government officials and the people who are behind this report actually believe universities will give their persuasive efforts some meat and backbone. Persuasion can always be simply that: persuasion. Convincing a student of the supposed benefits of studying at a particular institution could merely accelerate the growth of the universities’ marketing arms.

Secondly, every university already outlines, in paper with a high GSM, that they are incredible and innovative. Giving a university the freedom to raise prices like a business will negatively enable it to behave like a business in other areas. Costs will be minimised regardless of quality of output, and prestige will play even more of a prominent role than it already does.

 

“Increasing competition for students will mean that institutions will have stronger incentives to focus on improving teaching quality.”

p.48

 

Creating “competition for students” through a private market would be catastrophic for society on many levels. Incentivising universities with a profit motive will see profits increase at a rate disproportionate to the standards of education. When taking into account matters such as social mobility, vast debt, and regional insensitivity, the new model leaves a lot to be desired.

Browne’s report models fees up to £12,000 per year, with fees in the region of £6,000 being earmarked as the most common sum to be requested. However, they concede there would be no cap (music to the Russell Group’s ears). It is also conceded that for most universities to break even, fees in excess of £7,000 would need to be charged.

The government, the group who have produced this review, and the universities have all remained relatively tight lipped about the ramifications of removing the cap. Of course they would! The government can make savage cuts, the universities are given the freedom to extort their students, and the this group can add a popular report to their portfolio.

Everyone wins! Except us, as always. Lets live the nightmare for a moment:

 

Higher_ed_bubble_9-3-2010_10-20-44_AM 

 

To illustrate what removing the cap could (and most likely would) do, I have obtained a graph with data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics in the U.S. Browne’s review and the support it has drawn from the coalition government is explained by satisfying all the parties except the new generation of students.

By adopting more of an American model, we are in danger of letting universities, the crucial institutions which (should) shape employment, innovation, and aid social mobility, concentrate on boosting profits, employing even more administrators to do so, and lumping students with horrendous mortgage style debts before they have even begun their careers.

The mantra of it being an investment for the future is unravelled by our economic cycles of boom and bust which entail little or no job security. Our volatile economic climate is controlled by business interests, and the governments elected to appease them. Employment is slashed at whim, while credit ratings are protected religiously by incompetent regulatory systems.

My cynicism is informed by our neighbours across the Atlantic, whose free market dogma has revealed itself to be a bitter pill to swallow for society at large. Institutions such as Harvard charge as much as $50,000 (£34,000) a year, over 4 years, not 3. The total comes to $200,000. How is this justifiable, other than by regressing to matters of prestige?

George W. Bush, probably the most incompetent president in recent history (and beyond), attended Yale, a renowned university in the U.S. How? Through heavy private contributions – the same contributions we are going to be asked to make to fund our institutions. That’s fairness right there in all its star-spangled glory.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am not keen for us to produce clowns like that, reassuring English accent or not.

Big Fish Eat Little Fish

pieter_bruegel_the_elder-_big_fish_eat_little_fish

As something of an introductory post, I will only touch on the concepts and ideas I will be writing about in depth in the future. May you find it all worthwhile.

The 16th C drawing above is by Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I first saw it during my teenage art studies and thought it fascinating for some then intangible reason. While a lot of profound renaissance pieces do well to capture the grandeur and the vibrant decadence of the time, the smooth lines were too well purchased for me and most didn’t affect me nearly as much as this grubby drawing. It appeals to me so much because not many things I can think of better depict the corporatism that is so prevalent in our mishmash of a neo-liberal, neo-conservative, proto-ludicrous modern culture.

This drawing is what I see before me when I step outside. I see the rich bending the rules so that our infantile democracy better serves them than us – the people, the baying crowd, “the beast”. I see the poor being pitted against each other, so that whatever scrap of wealth they have becomes a jealous burden for their neighbour. I see violence of the most insidious, transformative kind being employed against us. I see us being individually gutted by others sporting smiles. “That’s the way things go” echoes in our ears as we look at our entrails. Finally, dispirited and downtrodden, the carcass of our dreams washes up on the shores of the concrete jungles we live in.

Then we show our children how to bear the process.

The best way to keep any group down is to keep them dependent. This is what our corporate masters do to us. We are promised choice, freedom, and equality – we get wars, slave labour, and wage theft – all made possible by engendering apathy and detachment amongst the population. The clash of civilisations is a smokescreen for an impermeable shield the wealthy have erected around their assets. Sure, I might not understand a certain ethnic custom or tradition, but these are the things I can appreciate aesthetically or refer to secular law for.

On the other hand, the economy is completely ambiguous. It is something we vaguely hear of every now and then, usually alongside huge barely recognisable numbers we have no real experience of. The real war is and never was between the “East” and the “West”, but between the “North” and the “South” – this is why we are flooded with information and opinion regarding the former, and only hear whispers about the latter. The rich exist in every country, and in every country, they are propped up by the poor. It is only the rules of this arrangement which appear to differ. Globalisation is merely standardising the rules of any success.

Sometimes though, there can be too much. Boom, bust, crash… help? Hold on, “we are all in this together”. This is the gospel of the ruling Tory party in Britain. Of course we are. The banking system failed all of us, then public money was used to bail out the irresponsible banks who concentrated on their more profitable investment arms. Failed bankers and businessmen are hired elsewhere (or left willingly), while public servants must now suffer redundancies, sector cuts, and pay freezes.

But hey, the champagne is rolling again in “the city”, so everything must be getting better. Everywhere else is supposedly unprofitable wasteland – I mean, why pay someone to make something here when you can a) make it abroad with cheap slave labour, poor working conditions and no benefits or b) not make anything at all and just make money with money in some game with numbers somewhere in “the city”.

It was not our teachers, our secretaries, or our youth workers who scandalously betted with and lost our money, it was our bankers and business elites. Yet, we live in a system where they have become the barometer of our economy, our employment, and ultimately our livelihoods. Bosses are not more important than their workers, they just pretend to be and we seemingly go along with it.

“Look, child, this is how you gut a fish”.

The public sector has recently been a stable source of employment for many of us here, and that is what matters – employment. Employment determines peoples livelihood. The Tories naively want discarded public sector workers to migrate into the private sector. They want state workers to reprogram themselves into money-centric robots – what they tentatively call “entrepreneurs”, or more realistically, “failed entrepreneurs”. There can only be so many bosses, after all.

Anybody who works in the public sector in the first place was probably dismayed by the conditions and erratic behaviour of modern business practice, hence their choice to serve the permanent state in some way. The job may have been superfluous (through no fault of their own), but at least it was honest. The fact of the matter is, the money isn’t across that bridge the government is telling us to cross anyway. The invisible hand plays with an invisible deck most of the time.

Schools and universities have also, for the most part, become cloning centres teaching subjects that are cute but not deemed employable. A quick look at the graduate section of all jobs sites will land you in a deluge of sales, marketing, and recruitment consultancy roles. “So”, the graduate reflects, “my options after leaving with a degree is either to directly sell something, indirectly sell something, or help someone else get a job selling something, or indirectly selling something”.

Our economy is built on jobs that compel people to forsake their youthful ambitions and their true passions. We must now, having seemingly failed at being architects or archaeologists for example, make a living shovelling the dirt away from the river of capital flowing into our masters’ well-tailored deep pockets. This is sometimes euphemistically called “growing up”. Bollocks to that, this is more like “growing down”, or growing a hunch on your back.

The wealthy are protected from such harsh realities through mounds of inheritance, being paid more attention to at school in smaller classrooms and being paid more attention to at home from their affluent parents. When it comes to starting a career, they can afford prestigious unpaid internships (again, daddy’s wallet) at organisations whose reputations sell themselves and need offer no expenses whatsoever, even with relocation involved (winking at the United Nations here).

We are weaved this illusion that the poor must be lazy benefit cheats who use Britain and are jealous of the rich. We despise them for it. We start looking down at “them”, these vile citizens of our beloved righteous country, to feel that ugly but intoxicating feeling of superiority that is so rare. We do this rather than look up to see the real culprits who make us feel powerless.

The government too is something we are meant to elect to serve us, to be on our side, but it has become a shadow of corporate nepotism, together forming a tag-team of oppression with business for mutual preservation. We have been lied to forever; by our schools, by our government who control our schools, and by those who tell us our reliance on a market controlled by invisible forces who only have to buy you when you’re down to win you is the only way to prosper.

We are only useful insofar as we become obedient cogs of this alien machine we live within. We must never lose the unfamiliarity of it all – of being in this construct. We must never accept our bitter toil as sacrosanct. Oiling the wheels of this tyrannical machine with all its distractions we live under is unacceptable; we need to change the wheels altogether and burn the old dysfunctional motor down to the ground.

This little space on the internet will be devoted to ripping apart the webs we live in. Our “knowledge economy” is bankrupt because freethinking is not cultivated in our youth. What we need is an “ideas economy”, with a realigned education and value system emphasising the dignity of life and labour, rather than the religion of “maximum profit at minimum cost”. The latter has seen the erosion of the classical market system into one where wealth simply begets wealth, regardless of product.

Many of us hope to break into this game with good intentions and change it from the top. This is impossible. For one only makes it into the boardroom precisely because one has no intention to change the way things are done. Things change because the people want them to change. The rich have fantastic defence mechanisms in place to prevent this and deflect attention away from the real problems.

They cultivate animosity between those they see as beneath them. They have eager government lackeys and lawyers who do their bidding. And the most powerful of all – a pen and a blank cheque. If you can’t beat them, buy them, and have them for dinner later with a bit of tartar sauce.

No more.