University Is Now an Ethical Question

13/03/2014 10:28 GMT | Updated 12/05/2014 10:59 BST


ONS data which shows that nearly 50% of recent graduates are in non-graduate work.

Is it ethical to let a young person go to university in the full knowledge that a degree will serve then with no hope of employment? Is it ethical to supply a student with skills and information that have no relevance to the world of work? Is it ethical let a young person to exchange their money and time for a degree that is materially worthless?

In each instance I submit and content not. Each is an obvious breach of our basic ethic code and a violation of the duties we owe our fellow human beings.

These are the questions that must be asked, answered and addressed by those in control. There are two core issues at the heart of this problem:

Firstly, the university model must change. Under the current model, university feeds and is the cause of the skills gap. By effect that skills gap is choking the recovery and irreversibly scarring young people. (Princes Trust on the scarring effect here.) (Linda Yeuh is scared about the long term scarring affect of joblessness.)

Secondly - and this is critical - some don't want change. There are vested interests. For those interests there's no business like the university business. However for the non-interested, the current model is a racket: extorting money from impressionable young people and taking government grants and converting it into worthless paper.

Here's the basic dissonance. The head of the Law Society said:

"THOUSANDS of middle-class graduates who spend years trying to qualify as solicitors will never secure jobs in the legal profession and will instead end up saddled with thousands of pounds of debt."

Yet as I showed here, between 2012 and 2013 the number of entrants into law school jumped from 103,613 to 109,140. (And this is typical of the wider trend as university numbers grow. I showed in January 2013 that a record number of students applied to universities in Northern Ireland. I showed in December 2013 that a record number of students started university in Northern Ireland.)

Now how do you reconcile one with two? You can't. You simply can't. Demand is down. Supply is up. This is madness economics. People are willfully, and promiscuously conning ambitious law students. Where is the check and balance and accountability? And the ultimate irony is that the paper, the Sunday Times, that broke the news that "THOUSANDS" of law students would never practice law, is the same paper that is co-sponsoring a scholarship for 6 students to attend the University of Law. That being the university that is now owned by a private equity fund. Yes, there really is no business like the university business. This is a scandal. I propose as Richard A. Matasar said:

"If a law school [and university in general] can't help its students achieve their goals we should shut the damn place down."

I have felt the "endless misery" of youth unemployment and carry indelible scratches on my body, but I will not stand by while my fellow young people are duped into a worthless degree. And it's not just me. Sir Michael Marmot of UCL has consistently warned of a "public health timebomb" if youth unemployment remains high.

This is intolerable and must be remedied. You cannot educate a young person in abstract and perfect isolation from the world around, and then expect him or her to work in that world. You cannot build an economy with a workforce illiterate in the language of labour.

And so enough is enough. As Fintan O'Toole said:

"The truth that has to be grasped is that there is no smart economy without a smart society. And smart societies don't waste their human wealth by putting up with systems in which 9-year-olds can be labelled as failures because of the dumb luck of the social class into which they happened to be born."

And likewise, smart societies don't waste their human wealth, or allow others to waste their human wealth, by putting up with the stupid university model that ridicules all other career routes and which sustains institutions which often amount to nothing more than giant holding pens. We cannot put up with universities that short-change students and panders to them and shields failing standards with ever-inflating grades. As here:

"The results [of the national poll by the ST] highlight fears that academics at some universities may be more interested in their research than in their students."

As one student said:

"As far as the university is concerned, I am non- existent. I could disappear for good and none of the academic staff would ever notice."

For as Jenni Russel said ,'Some universities teach and some do not.' And to effect change, as Gillian Tett said:

"If a country wants to improve its educational system in a hurry, its population must be hungry for change"

That's our challenge. We need to be hungry to change the university model. Yes 'Teens aspire to wrong jobs' - but who is responsible for that? They to an extent; but in most measure it's society, their parents, educators and those running universities who are responsible. We owe them an ethical duty to inform, enlighten and guide them. So we need to do two main things as we change the model.

One, break the Cult of University that forces young people into university. As Frank Field MP said:

"Successive generations of young people have been shoehorned into universities on the promise of improving their lifetime earnings."

Two, create a system that informs young people with a menu of option and real-life experiences which includes non-university options.

Three, create a system that scrutinizes and keeps universities accountable. We need an honest broker to mediate between young people and university; because at present the terms of engagement are wholly in favor of the information-rich university. We need an office of university responsibility that operates as a signal and watch dog for information-poor young people.

Eisenhower warned of the danger of the unchecked university in his Farewell Address:

"The free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present - and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system - ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society... We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the [two]."

In that mission we need to look to people like Jenni Russel (@jennirsl) who has repeatedly slammed the failing university model. Dale J Stephens (@DaleJStephens) who petitions young people to "act with agency."

Lord Baker who called for a re-balancing back towards polytechnics and vocational training. My 'Cult of University' series. The movement by Michael Gove and Matthew Hancock who are working to put apprenticeships on par with university.

If you 'Need a job? Invent it?' If you're not picked, do as Seth Godin said and "pick yourself." The Internet is "ultimate tool tool of emancipation"; so use the online world not as a consumer but as a producer and a career tool.

We need to inform and enlighten our young people. But ultimately we need to embolden, empower and encourage our young people to embrace the wondrous enormity and plasti0city of the modern world and the endless opportunities that exist (albeit thinly veiled as a great challenge. Do it. For as Jullien Gordon said:

"Your life is your vehicle to design, drive and maintain."