Monday, 14 February 2011

Building a better moron making machine

For the most part any contact I’ve had with marketing people has always left me thinking they’re a bunch of useless shifters. I can think of one very impressive exception, except he was an academic whereas the standard PLC lot I encounter have been fucking clueless sods who know fuck all other than how to do pretty presentations based on them commissioning other people to do their job (and even then I’ve come across a few fuck ups where they didn’t ask the right questions).

But, despite that the marketing notion of premium pricing seems reasonably applicable to what’s now happening to higher education. The news stories about Oxford and Cambridge setting out to charge students top whack shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone and makes perfect financial sense. To give a practical example top notch companies only go to certain universities when they’re doing the milk rounds, like if you’re studying at the University of say Upper Birmingham Polytechnic you ain’t gonna find a McKinsey’s stall at your next recruitment fair. Hence, going to Oxbridge gives you access to the better paid parts of the labour market, that and it looks good on the CV.

Plus, demand for an Oxbridge education is highly inelastic; there will always be more school kids wanting to study at Oxbridge than there will be places, so much like British gas, trains, etc., they can essentially charge whatever the regulator will let them. Similarly, the second tier of British universities like Birmingham etc., will also charge full or very close to full whack citing shite about how they need the money to recruit top notch academics in what is a globally competitive labour market ya de yah de yah etc., whereas the fucking reality is not charging 9 grand is a huge, ego crushing public admission by a university that it just isn’t up to snuff old bean.

I don’t get it though. Like Oxbridge already has far more cash (endowments) than any other university so presumably doesn’t need it as much. It can also already apply more stringent academic admission criteria so realistically this seems to be about status and fiver grabbing in a way that will only make elite education more elitist, but on primarily economic grounds (charging all this cash for a university education will also fuck the notion of good graduates going into the public sector into a cocked hat – become a teacher? Fuck that, I’ve £27,000 in fees plus student loans to pay off thank you very much).

So nah, for me when it comes to understanding government higher education policy 2 things stand out. One is the incredibly snide and totally under reported utter fucking ConDem bitch move of simply removing all government funding for the arts and social sciences in a way that will make them even more elitist preserves than they already are i.e. in 10 years time the only people writing British history will be the right honourable Jim De’La Cunt, the 15th Viscount of Upper Godlaming, some pensioner who confuses original research with making really big lists or some mental wanking his or her political shoulder chip off across 100,000 turgid words.

The other draws on this lovely quote from a Policy Exchange report, it being a seemingly influential Tory think tank:

“Some of the senior university figures we spoke to speculated that private education companies would not be willing to enter the university sector while the cap on top-up fees is set so low. However, a senior figure in one private education company countered that: “The £3,000 fee cap would not put us off, because there are a lot of inefficiencies in universities. If we charge a £3,000 fee and draw down £3,000 of funding we could make a profit by getting rid of inefficiencies. I feel confident that we could make a ten per cent return.”

So there you are then. All these shite companies are likely to set up mickey mouse universities offering mickey mouse degrees where the only selling point is they cost under 9 grand.

One funny thing about all this is that labour costs in British higher education are already something of a dirty secret; in a sector even more labour intensive than nursing homes the last time I looked a significant minority of said labour was casual and/or traipsing about between institutions on short-term contracts for fuck all money. As a result outside the Oxbridge much of the current cabinet attended, even at good universities students already go years before coming into personal contract with a tenured academic as opposed to a PhD student who didn't realise their studentship entailed spending all their time being paid fuck all to host a dozen student a time tutorials for which they do all the relevant marking. Now this is a resource mickey mouse institutions simply won’t have* and given what an undergraduate degree is going to cost who the fuck would be stupid enough to do a PHD anywhere let alone some Mickey Mouse private sector effort other than the aforementioned mad old gits, political nutters and trustafarians?

When these new private sector providers start selling piece of shit joint honours degrees in shelf-stacking and media studies via youtube, the clear victims will be the former polys they'll undercut on price (unless some US universities set up campuses here of course, which would put the wind up some old academic duffers lovely). This is a tragedy because individual departments within some of the former polys are actually top notch or at least better than a lot of their peers at established i.e. Russell Group universities. Like Bournemouth according to this does better computer science and IT degrees than Durham, except the same league table bods rate Durham 17 and Bournemouth 38 overall.

But, because these stand out departments aren't in places able to charge top whack, I'm guessing they'll get cut back regardless whereas shit to average departments at top whack charging ones will be more likely to get away scot free by coasting on their University's overall score and reputation (a view based on personal, if a bit old, experience). Hence I reckon the overall quality and experience of education in Britain will fall as it becomes much more expensive; students will be paying more and getting less.

As for the ConDems or any future government for that matter, that kind of reality will be drowned out by some shite rhetoric about introducing choice and competition into the sector as if getting a degree was a fucking egg and spoon race. Plus, competition and student choice isn't just inappropriate its already proven to be fucking destructive bollocks given the grade inflation that's seen the 2:1 completely replacing the 2:2. Or as a Professor at a consistently top 10 UK institution once told me when it comes to final exams students on 58 or 59 get bumped up cos its better to give them a 2:1 than get sued and besides their employer can sort them out (I shit you not).

I also can’t get my head round why Lord Browne was asked to provide the ammunition to justify all this given his approach to business management can be measured in lies and lives lost due to cost cutting, like by most definitions that would mark anyone out as a life long ignorant, vicious, nasty wee cunt to be spat on as opposed to being made a profound influence upon Great Britain's cultural heritage.

* On reflection this is probably incorrect in the short to medium term. A lot of people unable to get jobs at existing universities (see that word "unable" i.e. not quite good enough) will most likely dovetail a tutorial here with a mass marking of some degree farms exams there. But, the supply and quality of bods going to academia will diminish in due course give or take the students now hiding out in academia to avoid current labour market conditions.

AS a March 14th P.S. And I've just realised the guy interfering with the car in the pic looks disturbingly like Mr Tumble. Eeeeeeeoowww.

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