Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bright British students are waking up to the uselessness of many degrees

It was while doing his Saturday job at Sainsbury's and "stacking shelves alongside graduates" that Tom Mursell started having doubts about going to university. "I had been accepted to study law at Bournemouth University but was working with a lot of graduates who were extremely pessimistic about the usefulness of their degrees," he remembers. "It's sad that people graduate with so much debt and then can't get decent jobs."

Mursell, now 20, turned down his place at university (despite getting the A-level grades he needed to study law) and launched, a service aimed at – you guessed it – students who feel that university might not be for them.

And who can blame them? Figures released last week by The Office of National Statistics indicate that this year's graduates will enter the worst jobs market in a generation. The jobless total hit 2.4 million – the highest for nearly 15 years with 928,000 in the 18-24 age group alone. That's one in five of all young people out of work. Thanks to the recession, there are fewer graduate jobs available than ever before – numbers have diminished by over a quarter – and those that are available are being chased by on average 45 graduates per job, according to research published last month by High Fliers Research Ltd. Tony Blair's push back in 1998 to get half of all school leavers into higher education has thus had one notable result: the graduate jobs market is now completely saturated.

"The biggest client group I see is recent graduates," says Denise Taylor, a registered careers adviser and author of How to Get a Job in a Recession (Brook House Press). "They've been searching for that elusive graduate job because nothing else will do, but then often have to resign themselves to working as a call centre operator sitting on £12,000 of debt."

This is exactly what didn't appeal to Mursell, and it was his girlfriend's experience with careers advisers at her school that kick-started his business idea. "She was even more sure than me that university wasn't for her, but there was a lot of pressure for her to go," he says. "Then she came back from college one day with a job seekers pack, which made her feel like she was about to join the dole queue. It just wasn't on."

So Mursell set about investigating what the other options might be off his own back. "I learned that there are so many opportunities after A-level, from distance learning to apprenticeships, that you don't get told about at school," he explains. "I set up the website initially as an information resource, but after a few months my inner entrepreneur kicked in and I thought, I could make a business out of this."

Mursell is one of an increasing number of students bucking the university trend, and the success of his site – they now get 15,000 unique users a month, and he and his partner have just taken on a third member of staff – suggests that more and more young people are keen to find out about alternatives to university. Mursell now spends the majority of his time spreading the word in schools and sixth form colleges that "you don't need a degree to be a success in life", and have just launched a Results Day information pack (, which is being sent out to 3,500 schools and colleges. "There is a domineering social feeling that if you go university then you're kind of better in a way," he continues, "which is very wrong."

When A-level results are announced this Thursday, an estimated 50,000 UCAS applicants will be without a university place. There are alternatives, though, and plenty of enterprising young people are seeking them out and pursuing dreams that don't cost £3,225 a year (the price of a university education as per this September).

Laura Griggs, 18, is waiting for her A-level results in maths, biology and PE from Guisley School in Leeds, and wants to become an accountant. The learn-while-you-earn scheme she has joined through the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) means that she can get her qualifications while she works. "I wanted to continue learning but without the debt, plus I am guaranteed a job at the end," she explains. Griggs has already started working at an accountancy firm in central Leeds and is really enjoying the practical experience: "When you finish something on your own it's really satisfying. You feel good about completing a task."

She is earning £13,000 a year for two years during her training, with one day a week out of the office to study. Her plan is to do her chartered accountancy study straight afterwards, aged 20, which is when the big bucks will kick in. Most of her friends are going to university but that doesn't phase her in the least: "Everyone goes to university these days; it's not that special. I just feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders because I am focusing on what I want to do and not getting into loads of debt in the process."

So there are alternatives to university, it's just knowing what they are. Andy Gardner, the university and careers adviser for JFS School in Brent, and La Sainte Union Catholic Secondary School in Camden, always gives his pupils a PowerPoint presentation, "What if you earned while you learned?" detailing all the options from advanced apprenticeships at companies like BT and Tesco, to "DIY learning" routes into accountancy, marketing or law while working. Like Mursell, he thinks the pressure to go to university is very real. "Increasingly, I'm hearing that sixth form students feel under enormous pressure to apply for university, even if they are not really committed," he says. "One sixth former likened the UCAS application process to a train ride they couldn't get off."

Tristan Pruden, 18, from Bainbridge, near Wenslydale in North Yorkshire, didn't let himself get pushed into university. "I decided against it a year and a half ago when I realised it would cost me around £7,000 a year." He was considering a degree in architecture before doing the sums and now, as he waits for his results for three A-levels and two A/S-levels, Pruden is readying himself for an altogether different dream: cooking.

Pruden found out about a scholarship for a one-year Cordon Bleu course at the Tante Marie cooking school and got it, thanks to his enthusiasm and the experience he has already gained working in restaurants in the Yorkshire tourist area where he lives. A fan of celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, and encouraged by his current restaurant boss, he says, "I've always done a lot of cooking and really enjoy it. I would much rather be hands-on with my learning than sit listening to a tutor."

Having a passion like this, and clear idea of what you want to do, is, of course, a distinct advantage. Lorraine Candy, the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, didn't go to university because she knew she wanted to be a journalist.

Candy started out on a local paper in her native Cornwall, securing a job after doing work experience in the summer holidays before her A-levels. "They offered me a job so there was no point doing my A-levels. From there I went to the Wimbledon News where I worked with Piers Morgan. I worked freelance for a local paper in the week and for the nationals at the weekends."

She maintains it was incredibly hard work but that in industries such as journalism, it is gaining work experience that is key: "I don't think a degree matters in journalism. The work experience I got in the four years I would have been at university were invaluable. I was on the Daily Mirror by the time I was 20. I could have wasted that time and been four years behind everyone else."

Subsequently, Candy is a huge advocate for on-the-job training. "At Elle we don't care if people have degrees or not. I don't look for it on CVs – it's totally irrelevant to me. In the creative industries people come through many different routes."

Candy is not the only high-achiever to have given university a miss. Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Philip Green, Alan Sugar .... all are just a handful of the big-hitters lacking a degree. And, as Andrew Carroll, a teacher and careers adviser at Wilmington Enterprise College in Dartford, suggests: "Maybe this is a bit punk rock, but I think the people who make the choice not to go to university are probably the leaders of the future."


Socialist Indoctrination in Venezuelan Schools — What's That Got to Do with Us?

Note that although Simon Bolivar was known as a liberator, his ideas were very authoritarian and essentially Fascist -- JR

At Powerline, John Hinderaker notes that the "leftist majority in Venezuela's legislative assembly has adopted a measure that extends state control over education and mandates that all education be conducted in accordance with 'the Bolivarian Doctrine.' Opponents of Hugo Chavez call it the 'socialist indoctrination law.'" John goes on to describe (including photographic evidence) how pro-Chavez jackboots — sort of the Venezuelan version of ACORN or the SEIU — were dispatched to beat up dissenters.

John's post reminded me of three things. First there was that warm embrace in April between Chavez and President Obama. Second was the fact that Obama had enthusiastically teamed up for years with his friend Bill Ayers, the self-described communist and former terrorist, in an ambitious education reform project in Chicago — the Annenberg Challenge, a kitty they used to line the pockets of sundry radicals. And third was the speech Ayers gave in 2006 at the World Education Forum in Venezuela, with a smiling Hugo Chavez in attendance. I've posted on it before — prior to the election, when the media and a choir of moderates insisted that we knuckle-draggers were making too much of the trifle that Obama was pals with a disturbing number of America-hating revolutionaries. But somehow it seems worth repeating some excerpts today — you know, as a weekend interlude amid the debate over Obama's effort to nationalize another one-sixth of the private sector:
President Hugo Chavez, … invited guests, comrades. I’m honored and humbled to be here with you this morning. I bring greetings and support from your brothers and sisters throughout Northamerica [sic]! Welcome to the World Education Forum. Amamos la revolucion Bolivariana! ...

[M]y comrade and friend Luis Bonilla, a brilliant educator and inspiring fighter for justice … has taught me a great deal about the Bolivarian Revolution [i.e., Chavez's movement] and about the profound educational reforms underway here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chavez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution, and I’ve come to appreciate Luis as a major asset in both the Venezuelan and the international struggle—I look forward to seeing how he and all of you continue to overcome the failings of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane…. [For more information on the Venezuelan socialist Luis Bonilla-Montoya, see here.]

I began teaching when I was 20 yeas old in a small freedom school affiliated with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The year was 1965, and I’d been arrested in a demonstration. Jailed for ten days, I met several activists who were finding ways to link teaching and education with deep and fundamental social change. They were following Dewey and DuBois, King and Helen Keller who wrote: “We can’t have education without revolution. We have tried peace education for 1,900 years and it has failed. Let us try revolution and see what it will do now.”

I walked out of jail and into my first teaching position—and from that day until this I’ve thought of myself as a teacher, but I’ve also understood teaching as a project intimately connected with social justice. After all, the fundamental message of the teacher is this: you can change your life—whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done, another world is possible. As students and teachers begin to see themselves as linked to one another, as tied to history and capable of collective action, the fundamental message of teaching shifts slightly, and becomes broader, more generous: we must change ourselves as we come together to change the world. Teaching invites transformations, it urges revolutions small and large. La educacion es revolucion!

… [I’ve] learned that education is never neutral. It always has a value, a position, a politics. Education either reinforces or challenges the existing social order, and school is always a contested space—what should be taught? In what way? Toward what end? By and for whom? At bottom, it involves a struggle over the essential questions: what does it mean to be a human being living in a human society?

Totalitarianism demands obedience and conformity, hierarchy, command and control. Royalty requires allegiance. Capitalism promotes racism and materialism—turning people into consumers, not citizens. Participatory democracy, by contrast, requires free people coming together, voluntarily as equals who are capable of both self-realization and, at the same time, full participation in a shared political and economic life.

… Venezuelans have shown the world that with full participation, full inclusion, and popular empowerment, the failing of capitalist schooling can be resisted and overcome. Venezuela is a beacon to the world in its accomplishment of eliminating illiteracy in record time, and engaging virtually the entire population in the ongoing project of education.

… [W]e, too, must build a project of radical imagination and fundamental change. Venezuela is poised to offer the world a new model of education—a humanizing and revolutionary model whose twin missions are enlightenment and liberation.


Australia: Centre/Left Federal government aims at national teacher rankings

Good stuff but it is rather surprising that they are defying the teachers' unions. Has some deal been done?

TEACHERS' pay could soon reflect their value in the classroom while schools' performance will be made public as an online report card rolls out next year.

Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard believes teachers should be remunerated using a merit-based pay system and will work with education experts to develop a national benchmark that will rank every teacher's value. Ms Gillard said a top-tier band existed in many states and territories and the only way for them to get paid more was to move away from face-to-face teaching. "We want to reward teachers - especially great quality teachers - and (those) prepared to go to disadvantaged schools where their excellent teaching skills can make the most difference," Ms Gillard said.

"Under the system that we're proposing, we would have a national accreditation system where people could be judged against national standards. "Then we want to see school systems better rewarding those highly accomplished teachers, particularly for teaching in disadvantaged schools." Some of those standards incorporate face-to-face teaching skills and knowledge of the curriculum.

From 2010 people will be able to compare schools using an online portal that will rank schools, compare resources and show teachers' qualifications. "We need greater transparency ... so we know what's happening in each and every school and so does the public," Ms Gillard said. Other means include the publication of national education results.


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