Thursday, 6 May 2010

What the parties say about education

The Times last week showed pictures of Brown, Cameron and Clegg with children- whilst they spend plenty of time having their pictures taken with children, they seem to spend little time discussing policy which will directly effect children and young people. Talk of proportional representation, coalition governments and gossip about the party leaders has tended to dominate the headlines, leaving little space for the policies we want to hear about. So I’ve taken to the three main party’s websites to see what they’ve got to say about education…

I've noticed across the three main party's manifestos there are promises to restore discipline in schools,increase apprenticeships, raise standards, the list goes on. Whilst this all sounds grand, and I’m not questioning that need for these policies, there's a disappointing absence of any mention of children enjoying school. These points all centre on money and targets. My main concern as I've read through the manifestos is the seemingly inescapable focus on quantitative education, turning our children into figures, planning our countries future on numbers, not quality of life. But that's a discussion for another day!

Besides this, my primary interest was in the pledge made by the Liberal Democrats to provide free university eduction.....To make my mind up about how I feel about free university education I've decided to make a pro and con list- simple.


  • create a better educated country with better business prospects
  • increase the UK's reputation overseas as an educated nation
  • free students from financial worries
  • allow all people to feel financially able to pursue the career they wish creating a greater equality and decreasing the gap between rich and poor
  • less pressure on parents to be able to financially support their children through university

  • devaluing the degree
  • people aiming for jobs that now need degrees will soon require an MA
  • individuals who don't necessarily want to stay in education will do so to pass time
  • there will have to be cuts in other budget areas to cover the cost
  • it reinforces the concept that an academic classroom education is required to get a good job and negates the efforts made to give students alternative options to academia
Well, the pros and cons list didn't work too well as I came out with an equal number. Damn. So I've done some more thinking.

It's a wonderful idea in principle, but my main concern is that it would devalue degree standard education even further. Shouldn’t young people be willing to make an investment in their own future by taking the (available to all) student loan option? The student loan, if nothing else, encourages graduates to aim for higher jobs, whereas a free university education would not provide graduates with an incentive to find higher paid jobs, but it would force all those who are motivated to attain high levels of education and high skilled careers to continue into post graduate education.

I think that some of the points on my pros list aren't necessarily as positive as they initially seem; parents saving for their children, young people understanding finances and being willing to make a financial investment in their own life- surely these are positive things in many respects.
Which leads me to conclude that like so many other educational policies, free university education has also been driven by finance and targets rather than choice and quality of life for young people in the UK.