Thursday, December 03, 2020

OEB debate on Higher Education... 7 mins each... here's my 7 mins worth...

 ‘This House Believes Universities, in Their Current Form, Are Unsustainable as Mass-participant Institutions’

We each had 7 minutes to put our case… here’s mine…

My 1st argument is PERSONAL

I have two sons – twins, now 27 years old – interesting experiment – one went to University and has a degree in AI, one did NOT. He hated school and University, sitting in lectures would have sucked then life out of him. The one who did not has done as well as the other, runs his own business, and employs graduates. And that’s my point. We need to create a system that works for everyone not just the academic kids. 

We have an estimated shortage of 40,000 nurses in the UK, so let me tell you another personal story, both my mother and sister were nurses. They would not have been nurses now. The degree qualification excluded working class women and men from that profession. It increases class inequalities. We have to stop seeing University, as some sort of religious imperative. Like Catholic indulgences, where you have to pay to get the piece of paper or you fall into the HELL of low status and precarious employment. We need a Reformation and this motion suggests that. 

We need to REBALANCE our education system more towards people like my son, sister and mother.

2nd  argument is POLITICAL

In 2010 Peter Turchin, a scientist at the University of Connecticut who uses maths to model historical change, made a startling prediction in Nature. He said, “overproduction of young graduates with advanced degrees” would lead to social unrest due to rising inequalities. TTurned out he was right. The evidence… Trump, Brexit, the Gilet Jaunes in France… The graduate class has not only screwed over the rest of the working population over, it actually looks down on them – calls them deplorables…  The two best books I’ve read on Brexit by Stephen Davies and David Goodhart argue that this is what is behind such social discontent – the rising inequalities between the professional, urban, middle-class graduate classes and the rest. It was the graduates in Wall Street who caused the financial crash, nor ordinary working people.

We need to REBALANCE the inequalities in society and unite our DIVIDED societies, divided now by education…and not look down on people just because they didn’t go to University.

3rd argument is ECONOMIC

We have demoted vocational skills, outsourced manufacturing skills to China and wonder why our economies are faltering. Yet the graduate barista is now the norm. The destruction of vocational education has been a moral disaster and disgrace. But not everywhere. And I tip my hat to Germany, Austria and Switzerland who have more balanced systems and, unsurprisingly the strongest economies in Europe. If you think that Universities drive economic wealth think again. Taiwan, South Korea, and China grew their economies in spite of having low University infrastructure. 

As Bryan Caplan here at Online Educa, 80% of this is SIGNALLING but the cost of that 80% is needed elsewhere for healthcare and spending on those in real need.

In the US the cost as of now is a staggering $1.67 trillion to the national debt and don’t think that forgiving student debt is the answer. Forgiveness would be a highly regressive policy. Full cancellation would put $192 bn into the pockets of the top 20% of earners and a measly sum to the bottom. It does not rebalance, it increases inequalities.

We need to REBALANCE the system economically for growth and prosperity, as it costs too much.


My son did a degree in AI at a European University. Few of his lectures were recorded (despite the students pleading for them to be so). Two hours of high end calculus is not easy and actually a bad way to teach calculus. Online resources were rare. Universities, globally, are still trapped in the 1 hour lecture (only because the Sumerians has a 60-base number system), the essay is still a dominant form of assignment and assessment. Yet look at the scale of essay mills. You can buy a freshly written Masters thesis for less than €1000. And when it came to Covid the rush to the university of Zoom – exactly what you should NOT do in online learning was bizarre. This is ONLINE EDUCA folks we should have done better…

We need to REBALANCE towards online delivery. All courses should be Blended Learning and digital by default.


Lastly a cultural argument. Universities, as Jonathon Haidt, in his excellent book The Coddling of the American Mind shows, our universities seem to be producing people with less, rather than more, resilience in the real world. We had the unedifying spectacle of junior employees of a global publisher Random House/Penguin literally crying their little eyes out when they heard that they employer was publishing a book by Jordan Peterson. I was raised in a world where crying, when you couldn’t get your own way, was abandoned with diapers - not whenever a work colleague thought differently from you. Debate is being cancelled. Diversity of though no longer respected.

We need to REBALANCE towards freedom of speech and diversity of thought.


We’re in this debate but how many of us did NOT go to University? This, I think, is a problem. We have produced a graduate class that speaks largely to itself, in bubble conferences for graduates, talking about US. But this DEBATE is not about US!  

This is ONLINE EDUCA, so let us  pedagogically REBALANCE towards vocational, towards online and blended learning, to prevent further political, economic, pedagogic and cultural damage. With my friend Brian, I recommend this motion to the House.


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