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Student loan update:Meeting with Universities Minister to propose mitigation measures

This is the discussion to link on the back of Martin's blog. Please read the blog first, as this discussion follows it.

Please click 'post reply' to discuss below.


  • edited 19 March 2016 at 11:06PM
    1.3K Posts
    edited 19 March 2016 at 11:06PM
    I still despair of the entire SFE scheme, Martin.

    I do applaud your attempts to right the particular wrong, after you realised how used you were by Willetts & Co.

    However, the whole scheme is a national disgrace.

    I have said before that I know the details of three students in the current loan scheme. They are sleepwalking. Or rather, they are focussed on achieving the best results they can, and not thinking about how much they owe, even though they could work it out to the penny in a flash so much faster than most. They aren't dwelling on how badly their country has managed their education opportunities. That is just distracting negative thinking to them. We can't blame them for switching off that part of their natural doubts.

    I can believe that most of their cohort is the same. If you are young person bamboozled by the system into signing up, then who wants to even think about how stuffed up you might actually have been?

    Two of the students I speak to regularly have placement years in the middle of their courses. They are both STEM students.

    The UK "system" means that they compete for places with Global companies for their "placements".

    Those companies seriously utilise their skills. They make no promises to even consider offering jobs after graduation. That is not what the system offers.

    I mention it, because it offers a good indication of what our brightest students can really expect to achieve with their exhorbitantly priced studies and the 9% tax surcharge they can expect when they start jobs in earnest.

    Where did that crazy notion that graduates earn so much more therefore they can afford to pay for their education really come from?

    The two examples I know of are have placements with global companies at wages no greater than they earned as shop assistants. One at least has the possibility of a token pension provision on top. The other doesn't. They are fully functioning adult employees, but basically because of the UK system, they are seen as second class employees. Pensions - what for? They're only here for a yearand they're young - they'll catch up somewhere else that gives them a pension later ...

    These are full time serious jobs - I dare not tell you who with or how much responsibility they are given. But they are definitely cheap labour because their skill in analysing production, design, and inherent weaknesses and calculable risks is already protecting public safety. If they make wrong calculations then there is a risk now of things we all take for granted as safe are less safe! They are already contributing and accountable. There are back up systems of course and contingency margins, but there isn't someone rechecking absolutely everything they do. They are team members in real teams. They aren't playing at it. Not all STEM graduates are employed directly to enhance pure profit using their superior knowledge to beat the next STEM graduates in the Finance house next door in Canary Wharf! Most who gain serious jobs, have jobs managing real risks!

    These "placements" which we have in our system are not gratuitous "work experience" in any sense of the word. These are STEM undergraduates - with top level maths, analytical, team building and computing abilities, and they already had "work experience" before they went to university, and have continued working part time to bolster their outgoings. Yet the placements (and you can find whole websites now devoted to comparing and rating one company's placement opportunities with another's) are in the main, so very poorly rewarded. Why? Because an undergraduate can afford a year selling themselves and their often near expert skills so cheap, just like a graduate can afford a tax surcharge of 9%? What kind of system does that signify? When do these burdens become insignificant and young people start to realise their dream? Is ours a system wehere for most, proper salaries and benefits generally come mañana mañana? But will most graduates get there eventually? Or just the lucky few who break out of medicre reward packages after graduation? Why aren't the brightest worth more already after two or three years at uni?

    As I said, placements are not probational, or "try out" roles that undergraduates have to win with major companies. They are simply the sort of thing that typical UK STEM courses are designed around, and if you have such on your CV, then you can expect better opportunities to be offered when you graduate - or put another way - your chances of being offered interviews are greater. Why doesn't the government and these global companies put more money up front if this is such a good idea for our young people?

    It's the system we have ended up with, and it ain't pretty, is it?

    And what about those who borrow £9,000 a year just for tuition, and goodness knows what else by the time they finish with bank overdrafts too, and who do not have "placement years"? What can they expect when they graduate?

    And what about the ones that do have a year in industry? What can they expect? Will their shop assistant level wages suddenly double on graduation?

    Or do they have to continue their studies with Masters degrees or PhDs in search of a better teeing off point?

    What really is the big picture of this UK system of ours? Why on the one hand do we advise all bright kids to go to university, but then treat graduates as a body of job-seekers as largely two a penny with the majority actually not much good for anything beyond call centre operatives and retail staff even after they graduate, let alone before they do?

    Why do we tell lies to the main body of students about their real prospects - seemingly kidding ourselves that it is ok to encourage them all to dream and aim high, despite the fact we know that so few of them will actually achieve the sort of propoganda led example roles which have been so unwisely and dishonestly used to justify the current scheme?

    How many of our young people wish to become wage slaves? Do we ever try to describe to them what we mean by "wage slave"? Do they even need to know? Do we ever warn them that our UK system is actually designed for the masses who will sleepwalk into becoming one, and that they will have to fight and get lucky with support (not just financial) from families and others in order to break out of the system before they will start to achieve the sort of roles that they are conned into thinking their expensive university educations will buy them?

    I feel so sorry for those who have got into the system and now are troubled by thoughts of the futility of their efforts, and the debt that they sleep-walked into.

    And perish the thought no underrgraduate is allowed to have in our system, but there is no room for drop outs in the system, is there? Dropping out is failure. Losers deserve any mess that befalls them, right? Being chased for a debt on a part completed course is inevitable, right? They're adults and they know what they signed up for, don't they? ...

    What's next worse to dropping out? Struggling to afford salad sandwiches and having to walk back and forth to uni in all weathers, never quite understanding many of the concepts within the course, being an 'also-ran', and getting less than a 2.1 perhaps from a less well known uni? In that case, what's the plan after graduation?

    Isn't that common ticket straight into a call centre or a retail role? 3 years late perhaps, and a £50,000 or greater millstone around your neck which you understand even less clearly than the course you were on?

    How much more depressing can we make it for our once bright, hopes so quickly dashed young people?

    Politicians completely disregard the depressive dangers of saddling graduates with these levels of debt. None of them suffered it themselves. They haven't a clue, and neither do most commentators we hear from because the very fact we hear from them usually means they have bust out of the system and are doing ok.

    As I have said at the beginning, and I will keep on saying, it is a national disgrace that we should treat university education differently to any other education. It is pure shortsightedness and is a result of Downton Abbey type class distinction thinking which just will not go away. Downton Abbey made us smile knowingly about what it once was to be English, but not enough has changed in the UK since those times. Not enough by half - in fact we have been going rapidly backwards in the last 5 years or so.

    As I said, I applaud your efforts Martin in trying to right this particular wrong, but goodness knows where we are headed anyway with our "system" which has completely devalued and reneged upon the education covenant which any properly functioning western nation owes to its young people, and is so short-sighted in having allowed to become so devalued.
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