By Christine Grandy
The latest white paper on education coming out of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is one that threatens to “name and shame” “dead-end courses” in British Universities. This endeavor promises to give students more value for their money and justify skyrocketing tuitions in Britain. Yet, naming and shaming neglects to do just that, as it places responsibility for the current crisis in education in both Britain and Canada on university training, rather than on other forces at work on the labour market. What needs to be named and shamed in the current crisis is the complex relationship between university education, myths of social mobility, and a capitalist economy.
Britain is undergoing a fundamental change to its university structure, one that will radically alter a system that has been in place, in the scope of British history, for a relatively short period of time but has profoundly influenced the population that benefited from that system. Britain’s investment in post-secondary education was, not unlike Canada’s, a post-war phenomenon that saw university education entrenched firmly within the public sector as part of the new welfare state. In the heady days of post-war ‘affluence’ and a commitment by the Labour Party in 1945 to cradle-to-grave care for its citizens, and largely funded by US money through the Marshall plan, Britain was able to offer comprehensive education to members of the working and middle classes. Since then, we’ve seen Britain move from largely free university education after World War II to the imposition of moderate tuition fees in 1998 and then to the current tripling of that figure to 9,000£ (roughly 14,000$ CDN) a year for tuition that roughly two thirds of British universities are hoping to impose next year. This leap in tuition fees is to make up shortfalls resulting from deep cuts to university funding by Cameron’s government. These cuts are part of the current ‘austerity measures’ in place in Britain and include these moves towards the privatization of the university sector, a process that began with Thatcher. The recent condensed changes within the British system make its progress both horrifying and fascinating to watch, as Britain accelerates what has been happening at a much slower, protracted pace for years in North America.