Government cuts, rising tuition fees, graduates debt-ridden and unemployed, FE colleges becoming the new "new universities", the ruthless scramble for dwindling research funding, bankrupt universities laying-off staff and endlessly merging.
Universities have changed unimaginably. In 1992, the binary divide between universities and polytechnics was abolished and the latter institutions were relabelled as “universities”, and sometimes referred to (often disparagingly) as “new universities”. There then followed the creation of “new” “New Universities” (former FE colleges), and now, with the government lowering the lower boundary on how many students (customers) an institution must have to achieve university status, a promised further sphere of “new” “new” “New Universities” (former local colleges).
Over the past 20 years, we have lost the practical training that the polytechnics provided very well, with strong connections to local industry, to a system where good polytechnics have become bad universities, and which is producing a record level of unemployed graduates, each with a debt of around £30,000 for the privilege.
Rather than the government target of 50% of our young becoming "graduates", we need more electricians, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, farmers, gardeners and bricklayers. Many of our "universities" should become technical colleges again, to provide practical training of exactly this kind. Much better to be a trained plumber, in demand and earning a good living, than an unemployed media studies graduate. The government austerity measures (flowing the bank bale-out of 2008), and consequent swingeing cuts to university budgets are already urging change in this direction.
Society is about to change dramatically, as supplies of cheap crude oil begin to fail. We can expect a drastic curbing of transportation on the scale to which we have become accustomed. Global growth will be stifled by limited resources. The consequence will be a re-adaptation to more locally-based communities, and indeed, we will need far fewer universities, and “academic” education, but much more in the way of practical skills.
Welcome to a Brave New World.
Chris Rhodes created a bitingly accurate observational satire which targets the politics of academia, the degradation of the university system and - inescapably - the foolish vanity of academics and now it is coming true. He is the author of fiction-cum-satire, University Shambles.