Dead Men Left

Friday, October 28, 2005

Higher education, this time: born poor, stay poor, die poor

Speaking of education, and you'll have to allow for the Telegraph's own particular spin on the story:

Four years after graduating, nearly a third of "the class of 99" were either in "non-graduate" jobs or jobs that were not appropriate for someone with their qualifications.

The line between graduate and non-graduate jobs is now blurred
There was also clear evidence that the "graduate earnings premium" - a measure of the financial advantage of having a degree - had begun to fall.

This isn't completely unexpected: a study by the Centre for the Economics of Education, back in 2001, reached similar conclusions about the proportions of graduates in "non-graduate" jobs. What's new here is that, first, the length of time spent in "non-graduate" jobs is increasing; and second, relatedly, the additional sums graduates can expect to earn on average is falling. (My own suspicion is that dispersion of graduate incomes is widening, too: a few are doing much better, whilst the rest are now lagging significantly.) Worse yet:

The report also found that the cost of getting a degree was rising. Nearly 80 per cent of the class of 1999 left university with an average debt of £6,200.

Nearly 50 per cent of the students had taken a job during term-time. As a result, they were a third less likely to achieve a first or upper second class degree, and significantly more likely to end up in a non-graduate job.

Disproportionately, these graduates came from lower socio-economic groups.

All of which makes New Labour's "reforms" to higher education even more wrong-headed, if they also profess to have some concern for social mobility. Increasing the cost of university education prevents many of those from poorer households attending at all - and it damages the opportunities for those who do get in.

Access to British universities has become markedly less meritocratic since the early 1990s, as another CEE report (PDF) concludes. We now have, from this new study, some solid evidence that social stratification within the university system is worsening.

Universities are becoming a vital element in reproducing class. The hopes of generations of social reformers are being overturned; and yet, in classically ironic post-industrial, post-modern, Third Way style, the superficial appearance of rising university attendance is of greater meritocracy and social mobility than ever.