Getting our Act together

After 700 amendments and some heated debates, the Higher Education and Research Bill finally became law last week. Birkbeck’s Policy Communications Officer, Fiona MacLeod, has followed its parliamentary progress from First Reading to last week’s ‘ping-pong’ between the two Houses of Parliament, and outlines what changes it will bring to the Higher Education sector.parliament
The Higher Education and Research Bill ended its lengthy passage through Parliament last week and is now law. With both Houses agreeing on the exact wording of the Bill, it received Royal Assent on Thursday 27 May with a flourish of Norman French – a declaration that ‘La Reyne le veult’ – to become the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.

The ‘ping-pong’ process between Commons and Lords to agree a final version of the Bill began the day before, when MPs rejected earlier amendments made in the Lords and agreed a raft of new Government amendments in lieu. These final amendments were designed to achieve compromises acceptable to Peers and get the Bill passed speedily before Parliament’s formal dissolution this week ahead of the 8 June General Election.

The 2017 Act has been hailed as ‘the most important legislation for the sector in 25 years’ but getting it to this point involved more than 700 amendments and some major concessions from the Government.   So what key changes to UK higher education does the 2017 Act bring?

The Act establishes a new regulatory body, the Office for Students (OfS), to replace the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), and integrates the UK’s seven research councils into a new body called United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Among its regulatory changes, the Act will make it easier for new higher education providers to gain degree awarding powers and university status, while the OfS will implement a new mechanism to recognise and reward high-quality teaching, already underway, known as the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

The TEF will rate universities as Gold, Silver or Bronze, and results of the initial TEF trial will be published in June.  The TEF will be used to set university tuition fees, but any differentiation of fees based on its controversial Olympic medal-style ratings will not happen until 2020/21. Until then, future increases in fee limits – in line with inflation – for universities participating in the TEF will require the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

The Act also requires an independent review of the TEF in 2018 which will look at how ratings are decided and what they should be called; whether the metrics used are appropriate; the TEF’s impact on institutions and indeed whether the TEF is in the public interest. This goes further than the earlier ‘lessons learned’ exercise offered by the Government. The review’s conclusions will be considered before the 2020 timeframe for fee differentiation based on TEF ratings. The Act ensures the TEF can’t be used to limit international student recruitment figures and will require institutions to publish specific data deemed ‘helpful’ for international students.

For Birkbeck, a major problem with the early draft of the Bill was its failure to reference part-time study and its importance for the country’s future skills needs. It also failed to recognise the particular needs of mature or part-time learners when outlining the future role of the OfS.  Working with MPs and Peers, including College President Baroness Bakewell and Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Garden, Birkbeck lobbied successfully to gain explicit recognition of part-time study in the Bill; the OfS will be required to promote choice in the way university courses are taught, including part-time study, distance learning and accelerated courses.

We’re also pleased that the Act will help make alternative methods of financing available to those unable to take out student loans, including for those who require ‘Sharia-compliant’ finance.

The OfS will be responsible for quality and standards in the HE sector and will absorb the work of the Office for Fair Access.  Universities will be required to publish information about the fairness of their admissions as well as information that might be ‘helpful to international students’.

The Act also confirms that International students will continue to be included in the net migration target. Media reports suggesting that the Prime Minister was softening her stance on this in order to get the Bill passed proved to be inaccurate, and Peers reluctantly accepted the status quo.

Among other hotly debated aspects of the Bill, the Act confirms that University title, even those granted by Royal Charter, can be removed by Government.  But the Secretary of State will have to consult representative bodies of higher education providers and students when giving guidance to the OfS about its power to grant university title, and the OfS must consider this guidance before allowing a provider to call itself a university. There will be a full review to look at the shared features of a university – such as excellent teaching, sustained scholarship, learning infrastructure, pastoral care and knowledge exchange.

Similarly, the Bill was strengthened to provide better oversight of OfS’s powers to grant, revoke or vary degree awarding powers (DAP): the OfS will have to notify the Secretary of State when granting DAP to institutions which have not previously had a validation agreement with another higher education provider or OfS, and degree-awarding powers will be automatically reviewed following a merger or change of ownership.

Peers welcomed the many changes made to the Bill during its parliamentary progress and there was much mutual congratulation last week on the Government’s willingness to listen and the degree of cross-party collaboration in the Lords.

Lord Stevenson, Labour’s spokesman on higher education in the Lords, said the amended Bill would ‘improve collaboration within the sector… help reverse the decline in part-time students…assist mature students who wish to come back, and … pave the way for more work to be done on credit transfer and flexible courses’.  Let’s hope he’s right.

See the Parliamentary process of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 here and Read debates on all stages of the Act 2017 here

 

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The demise of part-time study – who cares?

This post was contributed by Claire Callender, Professor of higher education at Birkbeck, is based on her contribution to the Higher Education Policy Institute’s new report on part-time study, It’s the finance, stupid!, published today.

Part-time-educationSince 2010-11, the number of entrants to part-time undergraduate study in England has fallen by 55 per cent. Last year alone, the numbers dropped by 10 per cent.

This has gone almost unnoticed by most of the higher education sector, the media, politicians and the public. Yet, if there had been a drop of 55 per cent in full-time undergraduate entrants following the 2012/13 student funding reforms, there would have been uproar.

Universities and other higher education stakeholders would have been outraged and demanded action. Ministers’ heads would have rolled. When this occurred among part-time entrants, nothing happened.

Yet part-time education matters because it transforms lives and drives our economy by enabling people to upskill and advance their careers or reskill for a new one. It matters for higher education, too, because part-time study contributes to a more flexible and diverse sector, while helping to widen participation and increase social mobility.

In 2012/13, public teaching funding in England was largely replaced by tuition fees, capped for part-time students at £6,750 a year. Income contingent loans were made available to cover the fees, which students taking a Bachelor’s degree start to repay four years after starting their course, so long as they are earning over £21,000 a year. They then pay 9 per cent of their income above £21,000, with any outstanding debt written-off after 30 years. The Government at the time claimed these reforms would make part-time study more affordable and open up access. They have had the opposite effect – part-time study is less affordable while numbers have plummeted.

As public funding fell away, tuition fees rose – in some cases tripling. But the majority of potential part-time students do not qualify for the new loans to cover these higher fees because of the overly restrictive eligibility criteria. Instead, they are faced with far higher fees that they have to pay upfront and out of their own pocket. And amongst those who qualify for loans, loan take-up is far lower than predicted. The government estimated that a third of part-timers would take out loans. But only 19% have done so since the new loans were introduced. This suggests that these loans are not necessarily perceived as a safeguard against the risks of part-time study.

Part-timers are typically older than full-time students, and have numerous family and financial responsibilities that take priority over discretionary spending such as on study – especially in times of economic uncertainty. Put simply, part-time study is unaffordable for more people than ever before.

The recession may have contributed to the fall in demand for part-time study. However, the recession in England was less severe than in the rest of the UK yet the decline in part-time entrants in England has been far greater. The difference is that the other UK countries did not withdraw teaching funding or increase tuition fees.

As demand for part-time study has dropped, so too has the supply. There are no longer any incentives for higher education institutions to offer more expensive and risky part-time courses, especially where there is an excess of demand for now-uncapped full-time courses. Even if demand recovers, reviving dismantled part-time provision and infrastructure will be challenging.

The student loan rules, which are designed for young, full-time students, need to be rejigged to acknowledge the distinctive characteristics of the part-time population. At a minimum, the government needs to loosen the eligibility criteria. It also needs to consider larger subsidies to part-time study to encourage demand.

If the government is committed to up-skilling the workforce, it must take some radical action to arrest the decline of part-time study before it becomes terminal.

Birkbeck is an advocate for combining work and study. More information can be found here.

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TEF, REF, QR, deregulation: thoughts on Jo Johnson’s HE talk

This post was contributed by Dr Martin Eve, senior lecturer in Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck’s Department of English and Humanities. It was originally posted on Dr Eve’s personal blog on Wed 9 September. It was then reblogged by Times Higher Education.

Jo_Johnson_at_British_Museum

Universities minister, Jo Johnson

I feel fairly drained today reading the speech given by the minister for Higher Education, Jo Johnson.

The inferences I make about the speech are that:

  1. There’s a massive coming wave of shake-ups to HE finance, both research and teaching, implemented through a Teaching Excellence Framework
  2. Critiques of the REF have backfired as they are used in a deft rhetorical move to cut state funding for research through QR

This is all just my reading of the speech. It doesn’t represent my employer’s views and it is speculative.

On TEF

Even while decrying REF as “bureaucratic and burdensome to academics”, Jo Johnson wants a TEF. There’s so much talk of “deregulation” in the speech, even while the crux of it is to introduce a massive top-down regulatory mechanism. The core of TEF is financial, though, regardless of what Johnson says about “teaching quality”. It is to be incentivized by allowing institutions to raise their tuition fees:

there will be financial incentives behind the TEF, with those offering high quality teaching able to increase fees with inflation

Another way of putting this is from the flip side: there will be real-term cuts to the funding of institutions that do not fare well under this system. Since assessment will presumably be relative from a single budgetary pot, this is a zero-sum game in which some universities are to be slowly de-funded.

There’s also the problem of private providers for the government. These were fairly disastrous before. TEF gives a way to control this expansion, though. It seems that the government wants to decouple fee increases from social mobility while at the same time controlling the expansion of private provision according to teaching metrics. The end point looks likely to be to cut all public support for teaching outside the fee loan system and to squeeze the loan system to drive up competition (while getting rid of social mobility regulators like OFFA). Lots of universities won’t survive that kind of move, but will be replaced by new teaching providers.

On REF and Research Councils

The current modelled spending cuts in BIS are unlikely to leave research funding untouched. The Minister for HE used a deft rhetorical elision to couple academics’ critiques of the REF with removal of state funding for teaching and research:

“To deliver our ambitions, we also plan to reform the higher education and research system architecture. […] Our regulatory regime is still based upon a system where government directly funds institutions rather than reflecting the fact that students are the purchasers. […] It is also clear to me that there are many in the sector demanding a process for assessing the quality of scholarly output that is less bureaucratic and burdensome to academics.”

These critiques, of course, were of REF as a reductive quantifying procedure. They were not meant to justify the removal of QR, just the removal of the process by which it was assigned. Be careful what you wish for. REF was the way that QR was saved. Regardless of whether you like REF or not (I hate the procedure, but want universities to continue to receive state funding for research), QR gives institutions the freedom to allow their researchers and teachers to fulfil both roles. It is naive to think that this government would continue to fund universities in this way without a procedure like REF. So, I don’t like REF, but I accept it as the pragmatic/political compromise negotiated with a centre-right government to continue funding. This is my view of a messy political compromise, not my pure ideal.

The problem is that there are now several different ideologies competing here and the government must weigh its alleigance to each before deciding what route to pursue to achieve its aims. While Johnson says that he is “committed to the maintenance of dual funding support”, i.e. Research Councils and QR, something has to give. So, the ideologies competing are:

  1. An ideology of cost-effectiveness
  2. An ideology of deregulation
  3. An ideology of strategy

REF/QR is cost-effective compared to the Research Councils:

The REF assessed the outputs and impact of HEI research supported by many types of funders. In the context of £27bn total research income from public sources in the UK over a six-year period, the £246M total cost for REF 2014 is less than 1%. In the context of dual support, the total cost amounts to roughly 2.4% of the £10.2 billion in research funds expected to be distributed by the UK’s funding bodies in the six years, 2015-16 to 2020-21. This compares with an estimate of the annual cost to the UK HE community for peer review of grant applications of around £196M or around 6% of the funds distributed by the Research Councils.

So there’s a drive to maintain REF and QR for cost effectiveness.

But REF/QR has been massively slammed by academics as “bureaucratic and burdensome”, so it doesn’t fit the ideology of deregulation (however contradictory). Furthermore, REF/QR can’t be directed, as can Research Council funding; institutions can spend it on whatever research projects they like.

So the government has to work out what it really wants. If there is to be state funding for research, does it value a cost-effective route (REF.); a de-regulated route (maybe Research Councils? Or just cut REF but keep QR? Yeah, right.); or a route that it can control (Research Councils)?

Finally, the Research Council rejection rate is massive. Only a small number of applications go through. If we’re all forced to apply for funding via this route because there is no QR, then this will get even worse. Research funding will only be available at a very small number of places as concentration rises. This protects the golden triangle while exposing everyone else.

In conclusion

Johnson said, in his speech, that he has “no target for the ‘right’ size of the higher education system”. However, we can infer from this that he does not believe the size to be “right” at the moment because of all the changes he wants to make. Indeed, he said that we need changes to ensure “that more [people going to university] does not mean worse [quality of education]”, which presumably is what he thinks happens at the moment. I speculate, from reading this talk:

  • that the government continues its policy of protecting prestigious institutions while sharpening severe financial competition among all others.
  • that TEF is a financial move, not a teaching quality move, even if you think that teaching should be better rewarded in the academy.
  • that real-term de-funding of existing institutions through TEF will be the way in which the expansion of private providers is regulated.
  • that as long as the student loan system stands, the government can have it both ways: it can claim that it does not fund universities and that this is private income, even while having a regulatory say over them because taxpayers “underwrite” the RAB charge.
  • that REF/QR and the Research Councils are up for debate but the government is to use academics’ calls for its abolition as a justification to cut QR.
  • that there are several competing motivations for the government’s actions in the research funding space that it must weigh.
  • that the stability of operation for many institutions is to be upset.
  • that the talk of de-regulation here is only possible by the introduction of massive new regulatory bodies.
Dr Martin Eve

Dr Martin Eve

None of this is new, of course. I haven’t here, also, gone into liberal humanist defences of the university, of which we will surely see many in the light of this talk. I find myself supportive of the goal to get a more diverse student body – I can’t argue with that, just the methods by which it might be achieved. For instance, while there are talks of supporting those who don’t go through a “traditional route” to HE, the government’s recent policies on funding led to a period of severe financial difficulties for institutions like Birkbeck that cater exclusively for those non-traditional students. So, again, the rhetoric is confused.

But now we have it from the Minister and I suspect we will see action on the ground very soon.

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British universities need Black Studies

This post was written by Dr William Ackhar, a lecturer in community and voluntary sector studies in Birkbeck’s Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies. It was originally published on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site.

In San Francisco in 1968 a group of primarily black students went on strike to demand that their college establish an academic programme that reflected their lives and experiences. Their demand was met, and San Francisco State College became the first in the US to have a department and degree programme in Black Studies.

Nearly half a century later, Black Studies, Africana Studies or African-American Studies, as they are now variously named in different institutions, are a coast-to- coast academic discipline. Their academic departments in Ivy League institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Columbia are home to internationally renowned scholars.

Built on the two foundational pillars of academic excellence and social responsibility, Black Studies in the United States has led to the emergence of more black professors, heads of department and university administrators. From small beginnings, it has emerged as a genuine success story of the 1960s Civil Rights struggle.

As someone who draws heavily on the work of African-American scholars to inform my own teaching and research, I can only look with envy at what has been achieved in the US and wonder why, after all this time, there are still no equivalent Black Studies degree programmes and academic departments here in the UK.

In the past, universities did not feel there was a demand, need or interest in the subject but this is no longer the case. Britain’s black population is approaching 3 million and its increasing significance nationally and internationally in politics, religion, economics, science and the arts more than justifies the need for an academic discipline dedicated to researching and teaching the black experience, to UK society and the wider world.

On 15 May, a group of black scholars will meet to set up a British Black Studies Association, which will call for Black Studies degree programmes to be established. There has been a growing sense of frustration and anger among black British academics over how our communities have been treated by the British university system.

Black students are being encouraged to enter higher education in ever increasing numbers, yet there are no courses or departments where we can learn about ourselves, there is very little likelihood of being taught by a black professor, and according to the latest data there is no chance of seeing a black person leading and shaping the strategic direction of the university.

No wonder many black students, according to the National Union of Students, have a demoralising experience in higher education and on average are leaving university with poorer results than white counterparts who entered with equal A-level grades.

Black Studies – a social science covering subjects such as history, politics, religion, the arts, economics, geography and psychology – is needed to counter the damaging and corrosive idea that black culture is somehow anti-intellectual and that black people are not capable of contributing meaningfully to the intellectual life of this country. For example, it could include study of the Notting Hill carnival, building insight into its historical significance and connections to the Caribbean, South America and Africa, the complex religious symbolism that underpins it, its economic, geographical and cultural impact, and its role in establishing London as a global city.

Gender Studies has played an important role in shifting cultural attitudes and public policy towards women. The study of the black experience could be transformative for schools, police forces, mental health services and other arenas of public life that still have issues with black people. In education, a Black Studies perspective could be instrumental in tackling the underachievement of African-Caribbean boys.

By seeing their intellectuals, scientists, artists, technicians, being discussed, analysed and eulogised in schools and universities, the relationship between the black community and the authorities would change from that of “problem” to one of being productive contributors to society, resulting in engagement and achievement rather than continuing disengagement and underachievement.

This enhanced status of black life in Britain would ultimately result in more black teachers, intellectuals, and professionals being seen and heard in public life. And that is something many communities and public institutions in Britain need as a matter of urgency.

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Skills are a risky investment

This post was contributed by Dr Frederick Guy of Birkbeck’s Department of Management.

A shortage of skills is a source of perpetual anxiety within Britain’s political class. Here’s Tory backbencher Dominic Raab, a few months back in the Telegraph:

The next great problem is our chronic skills gap, which saw Britain plummet down the international rankings in maths, literacy and science. Labour’s arbitrary goal of getting 50 per cent of youngsters into university led to the proliferation of what one of its ministers called “Mickey Mouse” courses, which have benefited neither the students nor the economy. A 2005 Ofsted report found that almost half of those in their twenties said their education had not prepared them for their first job. Far from blaming Europe for this, Michael Gove is rightly learning from it – promoting innovative Swedish-style free schools and a more German emphasis on vocational training.

If we put aside the sniping at Labour and the currying of Gove’s favour, most of this could actually have been written by any of hundreds of politicians from any party at any time in the past thirty years: the schools aren’t delivering the goods, and we don’t do near as good a job at vocational training as the Germans. The skills gap feeds an endemic collective anxiety, the root of the county’s endless obsessive-compulsive re-engineering of its education system – because, surely, finding the right curriculum, the right way to teach, to test, or to select and motivate and cull teachers, is the key to setting this situation right. As for vocational education and apprenticeships, the on-going, multi-party failure in that area could lead one to believe that our Oxbridge-educated leaders can’t bring themselves to really care about something so far from their collective experience: true, perhaps, but like the anxiety about primary and secondary education it misses the point.

The lack of a risk insurance system 

The real problem, which no party in recent decades has even tried to face up to, is that investment in skills is risky. Britain does not have a good system for insuring against this risk. At the root of the skills crisis are the benefit system for those who lose their jobs; and the financing of further and higher education, especially for mature students.

Learning a skill is an investment, and a choice: it takes time that could have been used earning money, or in learning something different. A sensible young person, offered the opportunity to train in some specialist area, might frame the risk like this: “if this skill becomes obsolete when I am forty-five, or if the jobs in this industry get off-shored, who will support me and pay for retraining so that I can get another good job? Will I lose my house?” In many countries on the Continent – Denmark and the Netherlands are actually better examples of this than Germany – the answer is that the social welfare system and the education system will work together to see that you have a new opportunity, and that you don’t have to go through a personal financial crisis before you get to your new career.

The benefits debate

Britain’s ongoing domestic quarrel over the benefit system focuses on people who use it for the long term: are they scroungers, or do they deserve our compassion and support? Lost in this debate is the fact that the system, while too generous to some long-term claimants, is too mean with people who need serious midlife re-training in order to again be productive members of the workforce. The UK benefit system is unusual in allowing so many people to stay on benefits for so long. But for a benefit system to move people on to good jobs, it needs to provide for adequate training and education; and, if we want young people to take risks when they select their educational paths, the jobless benefit needs also to provide income insurance which is adequate to make that the investment in skill attractive despite the risk: during the re-training period it needs to be generous, and proportional (up to some cap) to the individual’s prior income.

The differences between Britain and the rest of Europe

Britain’s benefit system does not do that, and for that reason it leads people here to make different choices about what skills to obtain than do people of Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and the Low Countries – the high-skill manufacturing and exporting engines of Europe. The skills employees have then affect such things as the investments companies make in innovation, a question Andrea Filippetti and I address in a study available here.

This difference between Britain and its continental neighbors is long standing: with respect both to welfare systems and skills, it has roots going back at least to the 1920s. In recent decades, however, the riskiness of investment in skill has been greatly amplified by the globalizing knowledge economy. More rapid technological change is making skills obsolete more quickly. Rapid technological change and shorter product life cycles have also increased the volatility in company financial results, and in the size of the typical company’s workforce; this undermines not only “jobs-for-life”, but also employers’ willingness to share the workers’ risk by providing training, and re-training, internally. Offshoring (made feasible by the combination of modern communications and transportation technologies, and trade liberalization) can shift whole industries from one country to another in very short periods, and that produces extreme uncertainty about the demand for the skills associated with those industries. The risk of offshoring can, in the absence of insurance, actually make offshoring inevitable: if risk depresses investment in skills an industry needs, this in itself can make the industry uncompetitive, and offshoring proceeds apace. As if all that were not enough, climate change is now making its own contribution to the volatility of demand for skill, a contribution which will grow as the needs of adaptation and mitigation will compel rapid change in the technologies we build, install, and use. As long as Britain’s social insurance system cannot compensate for the increased riskiness of investment in skill, the skills of Britain’s workforce can be expected to deteriorate in relative terms.

Skills investment from pre-school to university

Skills that are risky investments are found not only in vocational and technical training, but among university subjects. Wang et al find that students view STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in that way. In response, students flood degrees in Business and Management – they are not Mickey Mouse, they are Low Risk. They are, for those who can’t go to Oxford, the modern and democratic equivalent of PPE or Classics, qualifying one to work in any industry, in a wide range of roles, up to a point. Often we pretend that this is a virtue, labeling low-risk skills as “transferable”. We do all need some transferable skills, but in education, as in entrepreneurship or in battle, some things can only be accomplished by taking risks.

Risk aversion shapes not only the choice of subjects to study, but also the way in which particular subjects are learned and taught. British employers complain that they can’t find skilled computer programmers, despite years of policy directed at improved IT training at all levels (and I do mean all: six years ago, when my son started nursery at the age of eleven months, that little institution was scrambling to deal with the one black mark in their Ofsted report – a lack of IT training. For better or worse, they fixed the problem.) Part of the problem, infamously, is that UK IT training has emphasized the use of shrink-wrapped software, the administration of Microsoft packages at the expense of the skills needed to program, and to customize collections of open-source software. This dismal offering is actually what many students want, because it economizes on investment in risky skills. In industries from banking to race cars to computer graphics, the skill shortage then shows.

Why don’t children in Britain learn enough math and science? It’s common to blame the schools, but however good the teaching a child could be expected not to concentrate on those subjects, if her literacy skills are sufficient to read the writing on the wall of the job market: knowledge of math and science may be transferable but, as we have just seen, many of the skill sets that benefit most from math and science are relatively risky investments. Universities teach a lot of overseas STEM students, in part because UK students don’t fill the places. Many of those foreign students stay on; through this avenue, and others, the UK relies on imported skills. The supply of imported skills, however, is insufficient to the task, and skills shortages remain.

All of these problems could be substantially alleviated by a generous, earnings-linked, time-limited jobless benefit, conditional on participation in an education or training program. But, even if we had that, who would pay for the training itself? Tuition fees and loans shift the risk inherent in educational choices from the state to the student, and that compounds all of the problems addressed here. The problem has been magnified by the Equivalent Learning Qualification (ELQ) rule, a foolish Treasury decision late in the last Labour government, which removed state funding (and subsidized loans) for students earning a qualification at or below a level they had already attained, with exceptions for certain subjects. There is now a good prospect that the ELQ rule will be reversed, which would be a small improvement, but still the fees remain.

One solution would be to include full fees for the duration of the approved programme, along with the jobless benefit: support the jobless as full time students. A drawback to that approach is that it punishes people who anticipate the need for re-tooling, rather than hanging on to a precarious job until they are sacked and thus eligible for benefit; it’s also not clear how it would apply to the self-employed, and if it can’t be it punishes entrepreneurship. The best way to avoid these perverse incentives would be simply to eliminate tuition fees or, short of that, to do so at least for students over some age threshold – 25, say.

Today’s educational choices are affected by expectations about what social insurance will give, and what tuition fees will take, at some unknown moment ten, twenty, or thirty years from today. The hard part of all this, for Britain, is that its majoritarian electoral system is given to extreme policy swings, making it hard to produce confidence in social policy decades hence. Short of a constitutional earthquake in favour of a more consensual system of government, it seems unlikely that the skills shortage can be solved unless there somehow emerges a cross-party understanding that a combination of good social insurance and affordable continuing education are needed if we want young people to take chances when investing in skills.

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