It feels to me like Student numbers is the new elephant-in-the-room, touchy-feely topic much as immigration once has been. Politicians and people in general seem scared to say that too many people are in University and that some people, quite simply, don't deserve to go. "What about our lovely liberal egalitarian system??"
I'm afraid I feel that, if the Blair Government made one mistake, it was increasing University numbers. All numbers: numbers of Universities, numbers of departments, numbers of staff and, of course, numbers of students.
However, I am encouraged that The Right Honourable Lord Mandelson has finally stuck his neck out. Funding cuts are the right path to take. It is finally time to admit we do not need so many people in University; in fact, we'd be better off without a lot of them. As the article details, Mandy is also going to slap fines on every place granted over quotas set by government. To his credit, Vince Cable MP has been arguing about this for a long time and, somewhat ironically given who the party he pays his fees to, he was always talked down by some overly-liberal Labour Party members.
Though it may seem like steps backwards, I hope that the funding cuts lead to department closures and, also, University closures. Change them back to the polytechnics, by all means. But there is no way that we should have so many "graduates". It has proven to be counter-productive. I think Blair's thinking was correct in the sense that he wanted people to have the opportunity to further their education. But I know of people who got 2 D-grades and a C-grade at A Level and they got to go to University! That is not egalitarianism or meritocracy; it's plain ridiculous!
In time, this will prove to be a good move. More people can be trained vocationally or in apprenticeships; both things that the Labour government has increased access too. I am sure that, as Business Secretary, Mandelson's aims are to stimulate the growth of a more productive business and economic environment in this country and there is no doubt that that means increasing the strength of our manufacturing sector. We have learnt the lessons from this recession. A strong manufacturing sector would have softened the blow a great deal. The government, though, is being proactive and, although they don't say as much, they have admitted error and are working to correct things.
It has also served to devalue the degrees of many hard-working students who achieved degrees in good subjects from good Universities.
It is also a good time to draw a line. The economy needs new skills and it needs a growth in the manufacturing sector. The "knowledge economy" is not sustainable.
A positive story all-round. Except for the unsuccessful applicants who will now have to work a bit harder without the bubble-wrap of University clearing day to buy them another 3-years of the "easy life". Time for University to return to being an academic breeding ground for the most gifted and industrious, not a social scene for the pampered middle-class who don't want to enter the real world just yet.