Do universities have a future?

Every year hundreds of thousands of university students build up stupendous personal debts for tuition fees and accommodation because they — and their parents — were brainwashed into believing that, once they had their degree, they would easily be able to pay them back because they would earn substantially more for the rest of their lives.

According to Margaret Hodge, Minister for Higher Education, in 2002, the typical degree would yield a return of £400,000 in additional earnings over a lifetime. It was obvious within a few years that this was wildly wrong. In an effort to justify the original figure in 2013, the successor department, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) investigated the matter in 2013 arrived at an average premium of just £168,000 for men and £252,000 for women.

A more independent analysis carried out by the Institute for Economic Affairs came to the view that although the £400,000 premium might well be earned by medical and dentistry graduates everybody else’s was a long way under — and some were even negative! In short, in many jobs — even so-called ‘professions’ — graduates would be worse off over a lifetime than those who had never been to university.

So . . . what’s to be done? Two things can be said for certain. One is that a future government is going to have to stop treating universities as degree mills. The other is that universities are going to have to change their reason for existence and their way of doing things out of all recognition if they want to survive.

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