After the Second World War there were many social advances in the UK that helped forge the basis of the UK economy. The UK was broke and the benefits (to the UK) of the empire had all but died out. Industry was sick and we had labour issues, partly caused by government, partly caused by an attempt to keep dying industries alive by the Trade Unions. And educational cost was high.
Keeping politics aside, we then joined (in stages) various EU mechanisms and the economy thrived. However, the UK, whilst having broad brush social support mechanisms, embarked on the deskilling of the UK workforce, whilst the rest of the EU invested heavily in education at every level. Throughout the 70’s and most of the 90’s we developed a high-performing university system, often providing not just free university education but the support grants that enabled students from any background to reach their full potential. However, during the 90’s we put in place barriers that hindered access to university education. Students could still attend university but would end up in some considerable debt and many people were put off by this prospect. I for one could probably never have gone to university with these barriers.
All political parties were guilty of putting the UK at a major disadvantage compared to our ‘friends’ in Europe. With the introduction of student loans in the Education (Student Loans) Act 1998 and the subsequent increasing of the cap on fees, the UK gradually became the most expensive country in which to get a university education. Educational cost was going through the roof.
Contrast this to the EU, where each country is independent and can set their own educational funding mechanisms.
However, if you want a high productivity country, you need to invest in all levels of education, from vocational training including apprenticeships to university and that is something the UK is not willing to do. But is there something more sinister going on more recently, discouraging University education itself. This makes little sense, given the lack of funding for the alternative of vocational training … until you look at voting intentions.
Does Education help or hinder any specific political party?
Over the years and especially in the 2019 election, there has been a pronounced swing from traditional Labour voters to Conservative, as well as a swing from the far right UKIP party to Conservative. But when you look at voting intention something startling comes out. The more educated you are, the less likely you are to vote Conservative. According to a YouGov poll, in 2019 28% of graduates voted Labour, 28% voted Liberal Democrat and 24% voted Conservative, in other words 56% indicated they would not vote Conservative, more that double the number of people that said they would! Furthermore 45% of people with few or no GCSE’s indicated they would vote Conservative and only 18% labour.
This is a strong indication that encouraging people to ‘get educated in the university of life’ is an effective way to encourage a specific voting intention.
There are lots of reasons why voting intention has an educational bias. One may be as simple as that a university student is encouraged to set hypotheses and then test them. You look at all sources of information that can support or challenge a hypothesis, the data will usually confirm or debunk the hypothesis or force you to look deeper. This type of approach is used across the spectrum of education not just the sciences.
Today, targeted mis-information actually does the opposite, it encourages you to not look at counter arguments like “we have had enough of experts”. This means that extremist views can feed on some inbuilt thought processes like phantom threats from outsiders, then build that up to outsiders being people that just think differently to yourself. We are now a country that is heavily divided with a large group not easily able to discern truth from fiction and as a result unable to make good decisions for their own future.
We can make a difference here, continue to put pressure on your MP, irrespective of party, that we need to have a competitive education system that is as affordable as in the rest of Europe. Educated people make better decisions, power the economy and help everyone, at whatever level, become more productive. Educational cost is not negotiable.
Ed: West England Bylines champions universal education and features articles, like this in July on postgraduate funding, to highlight the issues.