Thursday, 9 May 2013

Voucher system wastes another generation of learners

Milton Friedman talked about the four ways of spending money:

There are four ways in which you can spend money.
1. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money.
2. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost.
3. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch!
4. Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. And that’s close to 40% 50%*of our national income.

Add that insight to a culture that for over a century has denigrated “dirty work” in favour of arts and culture, and what you see with Britain’s experiment in a voucher system for tertiary education—allowing youngsters a blank cheque to spend taxpayers’ money on their own (mis)education—is a good long lunch with a serious generational hangover:

Rise in arts degrees 'has left UK with major skills crisis' 
Too many teenagers are being pushed into taking university courses because of Britain’s “snobbery” towards technical qualifications…
     By 2011, a record 49 per cent of the age group had started – or planned to start – a degree course, latest figures show. But … as many as half of graduates were now being left unemployed or in low-skilled jobs after finishing university with qualifications that fail to meet the needs of the modern economy.
    At the same time, British industry is facing a shortfall of around 40,000 scientists, engineers and technicians each year, forcing many companies to seek out highly-trained foreigners to plug holes in the workforce…  [T]he current priorities of students were “totally out of step with the needs of the economy.”
    Around 300 old-style technical schools had been opened in the middle of the last century but were “closed by snobbery” towards practical qualifications.

It’s a sad and familiar story, isn’t it.  

[HT David P.]

* Uncle Milt’s figure updated to reflect present-day realities.

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