Obviously when I become absolute ruler of the world, minor inconveniences such as global poverty, hunger, conflict and injustice will be instantly eradicated, which would allow time to attend to far more complex and intractable problems – such as how to improve the functioning of British Universities.
The massive expansion of student numbers in recent years has placed a high demand on university resources, in terms of teaching staff, books and computer equipment, as well as for government in terms of paying for tuition fees. Universities have responded in various ways, but in almost every instance the increase in numbers has led to an increase in teaching workload, increased class sizes and reduced access for students to books and staff. The government meanwhile has responded by gradually increasing the amount that students, or their parents, are required to contribute towards first living expenses and latterly tuition costs.
The increase in the costs associated with higher education has likely put off some students from less prosperous backgrounds (though the poorest do still receive substantial assistance) or from those whose parents are unwilling to provide financial support. It also means that most students now have to undertake some form of part-time work in order to pay their bills, significantly reducing the time they have available to study.
There appears to be little obvious benefits that have accrued to society in general from this expansion, the numbers of students undertaking courses where a degree is indispensable to proficiency in their chosen career doesn’t appear to have increased in proportion with overall expansion. Instead, we have vastly more people taking humanities degrees before subsequently entering entirely unrelated professions.
Now I have no problem with that per se, in fact I have considerable respect for the idea that university can offer learning for learning sake – or more precisely, learning for the sake of improving critical thinking skills – rather than simply as an aid to national economic performance. But I think the expansion in numbers has significantly undermined that potential. Indeed, there sometimes doesn’t seem to be much learning going on at all. Equally I don’t want to be in a position of prohibiting people from choosing to go to university, or setting up insurmountable barriers. So my aim is to find a way of reducing student numbers, while enhancing the student experience and avoiding making higher education as exclusive as it was up until 20 years ago. I think that can be achieved, along with various other benefits by a fairly simple proposal.
The proposal is *drumroll* that students would not be able to register at university until at least a year (and preferably two) following the completion of A levels/further education. This period could be used for working, travelling, other avenues of study, whatever.
In terms of reducing student numbers, I think this would significantly cut down on the numbers of young people who drift rather aimlessly into university, without really considering why they were doing it. I imagine that many who had found work might decide they’d prefer to continue with their career in that field rather than return to education.
For thosewho are determined to go through higher education there are substantial benefits in delaying their entry for a while longer – not least because the admissions procedure would be dramatically simplified, and much less stressful if it was happening when students and universities alike knew their A Level results, as opposed to the current guessing game.
Secondly, aged 19 0r 20 young people would be much better placed to choose their degree scheme with reference to what they wanted to do with the rest of their life than when they were 17 or 18, when the decision currently has to be made. Furthermore, that extra maturity, experience of the world and time spent outside the classroom – whether at work or elsewhere – would mean that they entered university much better able to engage with the independent learning that higher education requires.
And even if none of that came to pass, at least they could save up a few quid beforehand.