I was interviewed this week by an up and coming intern who wanted some thoughts on the way in which young people enter the workplace. It was a really interesting conversation from a number of points, and certainly got me thinking. The intern – Sarah – had just graduated from University and so was more than aware of the challenges in searching for a job, but wanted another perspective.
What this discussion really crystalised in my mind was the way in which education is operating as a market at the moment. The commodity that is being sold / bought is the learning, with young people and SMEs predominantly selling (normally their time) and education providers and some large companies doing the buying. Trying to explain to this bright young individual how the market really works was a real challenge. Why is a learner worth more if they go through HE than FE? Why is learning support so much higher in HE than FE? Why are some universities paying cash incentives to students to sign up with them? With the discussions around Apprenticeship contracts, Adult Education and even school budgets all in the news this week, it is regrettable that the main topics of discussion are increasingly financial and not based on the importance of choice, the quality of learning, and the outcomes that education delivers.
For all those involved with education and skills, it’s important to make sure that the complexities of the funding system we work in don’t become the overriding factor in education. At the end of the day, this focus will not deliver sustainable outcomes for anyone. When Sarah told me that after 4 years at University she now owes over £45,000 I asked her whether she was aware when she started that her debt would be so high, and whether it offered value for money. The line went very quiet.
That’s not to say that HE is not a good choice – it is for many people. The challenge is that whether we are parents, teachers, governors or recruiters, we need to make sure that young people fully understand the implications of the choices they are making. Other sectors have recently been held to account by regulators or the courts for a lack of clarity when selling products or services (PPI anyone!?). I’d hate to think that education fell into the same trap. When you hear of Universities offering cash incentives for young people to join, it has to be a concern….
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