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Why on earth aren’t the Tories trying to reduce the number of university students?

“Younger voters will never forgive the Tories”, according to Rachel Sylvester in the Times.

If the political battle is turning into a war of the generations then so far the Tories are losing the fight. Mr Corbyn scooped up young voters in June by promising to scrap tuition fees and last week Mr Cable described inter-generational unfairness as “the greatest social injustice” of the 21st century.


Theresa May is scrambling to find some policies designed to win back young voters that she can announce in her party conference speech next month. Downing Street is considering a review of the 6.1 per cent interest rate on student loans paid while people are at university. There could also be a return of maintenance grants for the poorest students, although ministers are determined not to abandon the principle of the tuition fees system, which has in fact led to a rise in the number of underprivileged young people going to university.

On current form it does not seem likely that they will be grateful. “I will deal with those already burdened with student debt” , said Jeremy Corbyn, and hoovered up the student votes – despite a certain lack of clarity about what “deal with” actually meant.

Should they be grateful?

In 2013 an article in the Times Educational Supplement purred,

Fourteen years after Tony Blair first set out the aim, Labour’s goal for 50 per cent of young Britons to enter higher education has been all but reached.

According to the latest data, participation rates among people aged 17 to 30 rose from 46 per cent in 2010-11 to 49 per cent in 2011-12, and might even have exceeded 50 per cent had the figures included those attending private institutions.

So what does this mean? In 1950, just 3.4 per cent of young people went to university, so today’s participation rate vividly illustrates how higher education has moved from the margins to centre stage in British public life.

When I went to university in the early 1980s, just ahead of the earlier Conservative-inspired expansion of higher education when Kenneth Baker was Education Secretary, the percentage of British young people doing the same was a little higher but not much. I got a grant. (Nobody who has seriously considered the matter believes that the country nowadays could afford to provide grants for fifty per cent of each cohort of British youth. In other words, half the British electorate follow Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in believing exactly that.) I was guiltily aware that there were many young people of my age who would have been capable of benefiting from a university education but could not afford one.

On the other hand, there were many more ways for those who did not go to university to rise in the world. When I was a young teacher many of my most admired colleagues had joined the profession with two A-Levels. Nursing was similar. Journalists got their start in the local paper (local papers, remember them?), again with two A-Levels. Many responsible jobs did not even require A-Levels: five O-Levels including Maths and English was standard. These jobs were not done worse than they are now. Social mobility was greater than it is now.

Finally, I have always thought that there was something hurtful about dividing the population academically into a top half and a bottom half and I am surprised that those who went on so much about the cruelty of the Eleven Plus did not see it. When most people did not go to university, not going to university was not a badge of inferiority it was just normal. Now, in contrast, the bottom half must have their below-averageness made explicit, and, to add injury to insult, must pay for people not obviously more deserving than themselves to get the golden ticket of a university degree. (Edit in response to a comment by “Bemused”: “golden ticket” should be read as being golden in the same sense that the “silver” denarius of the later Roman Empire was actually silver. But, debased as it is, a degree is still the entry ticket to many professions which once upon a time were open to those who could not afford not to start work at 18. While making this edit I also realised that I had entirely forgotten to factor in the extent to which so many more students being educated in the modern fashion benefits the entire nation. Ah, well.)

It looks to me as if the Tories would help almost everyone if, instead of putting half the nation’s youth in debt and closing the gates of opportunity on the other half, they started slowing down the whole credentialism merry-go-round. It might even win votes.

45 comments to Why on earth aren’t the Tories trying to reduce the number of university students?

  • PapayaSF

    “Inter-generational unfairness”: Past statists grow government debt, then current statists complain….

  • Alsadius

    Politics. Saying you want less education is suicidal in electoral politics, so nobody says it. Even if it needs saying.

  • Laird

    Alsadius beat me to it.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Imagine a company whose top executives are competing to become CEO and one of the criteria for selection was that they appear completely ignorant of a key problem harming the company. Acknowledging said problem would be disqualifying. Does this sound like a company culture where incentives for governance are properly aligned? Sound likely that the company is governed effectively or efficiently?

    Welcome to democracy.

    When the people who ostensibly are to lead the country cannot speak the truth about the cancer killing said country, incentives are misaligned.

    Democracy is designed to fail.

    In monarchy Kings can speak truth on the things that matter even (perhaps, especially) when doing so is in the national interest.

    Colleges are modern-day churches. The University, as both a practical reality and as an ideal, is the Cathedral. Suggesting is might be beneficial to decrease the power of the university is blasphemy to the religious. Lowering the stature of the university is heresy to the religious.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Politics. Saying you want less education is suicidal in electoral politics, so nobody says it. Even if it needs saying.

    Politics. Saying you want less education is suicidal in electoral politics, so nobody says it. Especially since if it needs saying.


    The more something needs to be said the less likely it is to be said.

    The big bucks the federal government spends hardly ever mentioned – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. But the Tea Party will applaud itself for hours for trimming the rate of growth of the EPA by 3%.

    The USA wastes way too much money on education. Too many people are educated and even those who are educated are educated at far too high a cost and for far too long duration. But instead CNN’s economists will argue about the difference between a 35% and 38% marginal income tax rate.

    Big picture stuff is not talked about in democracy because the power is distributed among the sheep. Paralysis is the inevitable result.

  • Bemused

    Golden ticket of a university degree? Don’t make me laugh. Degrees have been so devalued now that most are pretty meaningless as indicators of the holders aptitude, attitude and intelligence.

    Added by NS: Bemused, I have edited the post to take account of the point you make.

  • Mr Ed

    It’s basic economics isn’t it? Graduates tend to earn higher salaries, so if you make more people graduates, they earn more and the economy improves.

    Plus with all that debt, they can’t afford housing, so the price of housing will fall, but they can’t afford cars either so that’s good for the environment, but they can always travel by levitation after picking themselves up by their own shoelaces.

    I’m sure Mrs May would accept most of those propositions, if not all, especially if her civil servants told her it was so.

  • David

    Even in the 1990s there were people studying who left with a degree that was useless for them.
    Blair should have reduced the number then. Encouraging people to study when it makes them poorer is evil.

    @Mr Ed”It’s basic economics isn’t it? Graduates tend to earn higher salaries, so if you make more people graduates, they earn more and the economy improves.”
    Doctors make more as well, so let us train everyone to be a doctor and we will all be rich. I think there is a flaw to that idea.

  • Alisa

    From the Wikipedia article to which Natalie linked:

    In countries in the Middle East, where the rulers have traditionally used public sector jobs as a form of political appeasement for the middle classes, this has resulted in many youth seeking university degrees that are only suited for work in public sector roles, making them unqualified for private sector roles.

    So the entire world is now the ‘Middle East’?

  • EggBaskets

    I thought this was going to be about universities turning everyone into lefties. That might still be relevant. So data point: I studied engineering at Bournemouth University and nobody gave a crap about lefty politics. The student union people got annoyed that they could only fill one minibus to go to some protest about grants or fees. They thought it was because everyone was too middle-class. In reality we just wanted to make things.

  • Bob H

    The National Lottery should be tasked with this problem. Not of course as the source of student grants, but far more direct and useful than that.

    Basically instead of money prizes, teenagers should be able to buy lottery tickets for university degrees.
    I’m not aiming this at sensible degrees like maths or science, but media or gender studies and other silly nonsenses.
    Winning a lottery prize first class degree in such studies would be an incredibly efficient problem solver.
    It would save countless young people getting into unnecessary debt.
    Ticket sales could also be used to fund actual worthwhile degrees.

    Winning such a degree via the scratching of a lottery ticket would leave them with the same level of ability that three years of useless study does.
    It would remove at one stroke a whole swathe of left wing morons from the university campuses, enabling a whole swathe of left wing lecturers to be sacked.

    And for those doubters who question what is to be done with those granted such degrees, exactly the same as we do now, let them join the job market like the rest of the population.
    The lack of interest by employers for a lottery degree holder will be no different to his lack of interest in a three year gender studies degree, but far cheaper for all concerned.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    The Tories need to start claiming the moral high ground. Young people vote Labour because they think they’re the nice ones who save puppies and help poor people. The closest you ever get to Tories claiming the moral high ground is JRM talking about economic growth. The Tories need to remind everyone that redistribution of wealth destroys wealth and makes people poor. That they want to get everyone rich so no-one has to be poor. That Labour are the ones who don’t care about the poor and disadvantaged because they are happy to destroy the sources of wealth. It needs to be a deliberate and open marketing effort that boldly claimes: Tories are the nice ones. None of this half-baked BluLabour nonsense.

    It’s the same with education. You don’t campaign for less education as Alsadius puts it. You point out that overly-homogenised education is forcing people into a one-size-fits-all mould that leaves people who don’t fit it behind. You put the emphasis on multiple paths to success. You support different kinds of educational institution and on-the-job learning and you announce your intention to break credentialism. You claim to be helping the bottom 50%. You speak the truth while also emphasizing how nice you are. Because you’re a government you offer tax breaks to support these aims.

    It’s not libertarian enough but it’s the marketing strategy I would use if I was a Tory.

  • Andrew Duffin

    @Bemused: you are correct, but since a tick in that box is needed for almost any meaningful job these days, the curse of credentialism must be addressed first.

  • Alisa

    Yes Rob, and that goes for the US as well, and for everywhere else where the Stupid Party is busy trying to out-nice the Evil one (which is just about everywhere I know of). Only it’s not likely to happen any time soon, because even when the ostensibly stupid do understand what you just wrote (which is rarely the case), they don’t have the guts to say it openly for fear of being labeled ‘evil’. It is all very frustrating, as Paul might put it.

  • Dr Evil

    I went to university in 1971. Only about 7% of youngsters went back then but I did get three A grades at A level (medical school). So I got a grant. As far as I was concerned I was getting a chunk of my father’s income tax back. Didn’t get the full grant though, just about 2/3 of it. My father made up the difference. Of course there are far too many universities that were upgraded polys and institutes of higher education. This is reflected by the much less rigorous ‘degree’ courses available. If I look at CVs I look at Russel group ones first.

  • morsjon

    It would be interesting to put these matters to a referendum. Voting is obviously anonymous so people will have the liberty of speaking their mind, whereas government can do a ‘wasn’t me guv’ to those who complain about the outcome.

    What would the outcome of a referendum be?

    – End to foreign aid (no way the working classes are voting to keep that one)
    – More money for the NHS
    – Less money for higher education
    – Reintroduction of the death penalty
    – Possibly higher taxes for the wealthy
    – End to non-white immigration

    Not universally positive of course. It deals with the problem of refusing to face up to hard choices, but doesn’t mean the solutions are any good!

  • Snorri Godhi

    About credentialism: it must also be said that, when Natalie and those of us of her age graduated from high school, a high school education was probably of better value: no need to supplement it with university.

    There is a chapter of The Peter Principle about this phenomenon: as high school degrees become increasingly worthless, employers start asking for university degrees, and eventually for postgraduate degrees. (Searching for “peter” in the wikipedia article on credentialism, yields no results.)

    So the first thing the Tories should do, is to raise the level of high school education. Easier said than done, but i believe that some degree of school choice and some flexibility in the curriculum are needed.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Would you want you want the engineers who design the aircraft on which you travel not to have engineering degrees? Would you have the surgeons who operate on you not to have medical degrees?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Rob Fisher suggests a strategy for the Tories that reminds me of the strategy that David Friedman finds most effective to convert people to libertarianism. I myself prefer a more aggressive strategy: facing people with the fact that the party that wants to increase the power of the State, is the party of the ruling class, and people who believe otherwise (i.e. who believe that it is actually the party of the people) have been duped by the ruling class.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    terence patrick hewett writes,

    Would you want you want the engineers who design the aircraft on which you travel not to have engineering degrees? Would you have the surgeons who operate on you not to have medical degrees?

    No. Whatever gave you that idea?

    However it would not trouble me if the circus performers who entertain me have neglected to obtain degrees in Contemporary Circus With Physical Theatre from Bath Spa university.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Snorri Godhi, I try variations of both strategies depending on who I am talking to. As long as we are talking about Labour and the Tories, though, there is a problem with “the party that wants to increase the power of the State”.

  • Why on earth aren’t the Tories trying to reduce the number of university students?

    Because the world needs more people with utterly useless degrees of course!

    I did economics and it was a waste of time and money and I spent the next 10 years unlearning the crap I had been taught.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    In the UK and USA both, what we really need to do is convince college students that they’re living large on their own future incomes, which may not be as high as promised. Do that, and the problem may fix itself.

    I’d suggest logical argument, but I suspect a computer game where the gamer has to ‘go through college’ and not end up poor to win might sell the point better.

  • lucklucky

    Because the bourgeois understood that is faster to reach aristocracy privileges trough socialist academia/education than trough self effort.

  • Laird

    Perry deH, in one sense your economics degree was indeed a waste of time and money, but bear in mind that the witch-doctor economics you were taught is the reigning orthodoxy, so your classes at least prepared you to understand it. Your subsequent learning taught you how to refute it, but without that grounding you would have been ill-equipped to engage in the debate. So it wasn’t a total waste; it was actually an (accidental) course in intellectual self-defense!

  • Pat

    To answer the headline question, because they’re conservative which means reluctant to change.
    Consider the record. They opposed Atlee’s nationalisations, planning act, the NHS, but when they achieved office they made no attempt to change things back (well until Maggie, and philosophically she was Manchester school liberal)
    Thus they have done nothing to reverse the university power (and money) grab of getting 50% of the populace through university notwithstanding that only 20% of jobs ask for a degree and half of them don’t actually need degree level education.
    There is a faint glimmer of hope now that change is starting to appear essential. I did see a hint of a proposal from Hammond that universities be made to repay tuition where the degree didn’t produce the expected benefits. If followed through it should make universities think about what courses to offer and who to admit.

  • Fraser Orr

    Here in the land of the free and home of the brave, apparently, according to a recent survey, 50% of millenials would give up the right to vote in exchange for extinguishing their college debt. Me? I think that would be a pretty good trade off for the country to slow down the inexorable surge toward nanny statism.


    (FWIW, from a purely economic sense it is probably a good trade off. Your vote is worth approximately zero in terms of its ability to affect your life, and it certainly isn’t worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars per capita owed by the “PhD in Medieval French Poetry” set.)

  • Sam Duncan

    You’d be surprised at the occupations that didn’t require a university education in the past. My father recalls that one of the partners in the small law firm where he served as an apprentice in the 1950s didn’t have a degree. This was unusual even then, but common a generation earlier, and the norm for the one before it. I always wondered why my dad took a degree and served an apprenticeship, but that’s why: traditionally, the latter, not university, had been the recognised path into the profession. You learned on the job, served your time, took an exam set by the professional organisation, and you were good to go. (A generation after him, of course, the apprenticeships were gone.)

    So frankly, if there were other effective methods of training, I’d have absolutely no problem with surgeons or engineers without degrees either.

    I never saw the need to go to university myself. Little did I know that by the second decade of the 21st Century, an otherwise worthless piece of paper with “Degree” written on it, almost regardless of what you actually did to get it, would almost be an absolute requirement for worthwhile employment.

  • jamesg

    Looking back I think I learnt zero from my arts degree.

  • Jake Haye

    terence patrick hewett
    September 13, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    Would you want you want the engineers who design the aircraft on which you travel not to have engineering degrees? Would you have the surgeons who operate on you not to have medical degrees?

    Would you want engineering and medical degrees to be dumbed down to the point where 50% of people can get one?

  • bobby b

    We ought to be paying more attention to people like Mike Rowe, who has been campaigning for years to get kids out of the meaningless college degree path and into practical learning – i.e., trades.

    We currently have a severe shortage of welders, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, hydraulic techs, circuit designers, heavy equipment operators, masons, millwrights . . . everyone that we need to implement the plans and works that way too many people are currently jostling to create.

    We have more than enough Gender Studies experts, race relations graduates, Women’s Lit docs, economists . . . all of the degrees that are good for nothing except to prove that you got through college, which has become meaningless in and of itself as a credential.

    Someone above said that you need a college credential to get any meaningful job. I’d suggest that this bastardization of the word “meaningful” is responsible for our current woes.

    (ETA: all of the above fields pay a great deal more in lifetime wages than the average BA/BS degree will ever yield.)

  • bobby b

    Perry de Havilland (London)
    September 13, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    “I did economics and it was a waste of time and money and I spent the next 10 years unlearning the crap I had been taught.”

    I did a double major with econ and (something else), and managed to unlearn all of both fields in about five years. So I’m either twice as adaptable as you, or half as smart.

  • James Hargrave

    Sam Duncan. And you got a better type of local solicitor as a result, certainly, of doing articles (with or without a degree) than the generations since. I feel very comfortable dealing with the now semi-retired ones – they feel professional but personal too. The younger ones have just emerged from a mass-production line.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Let me trot out one of my mad schemes again, this one for a sort of ‘pollution abatement’ by taxing the employment of degree holders. If you employ a degree holder, you pay $1000/yr if he has a BA, $2000/yr for an MA, and so on. That’s per employee.

    If the degree is needed, the tax is nominal; but if the degree’s merely decorative, then employers will soon lose their desire for uselessly degreed workers.

    The net result is that demand for degrees becomes specific, but drops generally. Young people can start work without a ruinous debt burden, be paid less, and still live well. Demand for college drops, and market forces bring tuition down. Probably the quality of college students and the education they receive goes up.

    Businesses will be eager to pay another tax, colleges to see their market destroyed, and future employees to see their future wages constrained; how can this idea miss? 😛

  • Paul Marks

    S.M. claims the problem is “democracy” – I suspect he has never even held local office, as if he had he would know that policy is mostly (mostly) made by OFFICIALS (Local Government Offices, Civil Servants, and so on) not politicians and that the voters have very little say in most things. Democracy may be a bad system of government – but how are we to do know, as we do NOT practice it.

    As for “tuition fees” and “student loans” – if the government subsidises something (healthcare, farmland, tuition – whatever….) the price goes up-and-up. Even David Ricardo understood this process – centuries ago.

    To say “I want the government to pay tuition – why is tuition going up and up?” is like being shocked that dogs bark and cats do not bark.

    One might as well say “I want the government to provide housing benefit – why are rents going up and up?” And both policies (tuition fee payment and housing benefit) were thought up by the establishment (by officials) the voters did not come up with these ideas.

    Indeed, as far as I know, the voters have never demanded a new benefit of public service – the establishment elite create these things, and then teach the population to expect them.

    “Why are the Conservatives going for less students?”

    One might as well ask “why are the Conservatives still spending billions on overseas aid?” or “why are the Conservatives getting rid of their sworn enemies the BBC – or at least allowing pro Conservative television stations in the United Kingdom”.

    The question assumes that there is a “Conservative government” – which is there is not (many of the present government are members of the Conservative Party – but are NOT Conservatives) and that politicians determine policy – which they normally (normally) do not (officialdom determines most policy). A very strong minded minister or Prime Minister can have a real effect on policy (that is indeed true) – but that is the exception, not the rule.

    Remember the Civil Service controls how information gets to ministers (what information – and how it is presented) – and what options they have. Most ministers are quickly “house trained” and come to see the world in the way officialdom wants them to. And least to a great extent.

    Elections do matter – but they do not matter to the extent that people sometimes imply they do.

    Take the example of South Dakota – where Republicans have won every election for Governor since 1978.

    The people who voted Republican wanted lower taxes – and after almost 40 years of Republican rule, taxes are now higher than they were to start with.

    That is not to say that elections do not matter – the taxes would have been even higher had the Democrats won, but in a Civil Service structure, to expect the radical reduction of the size and scope of government is vain. After all that is not what Jeremy Bentham and the Mills (and the other prophets of the professional state) wanted.

    And Britain?

    Who in 1979 who voted Conservative wanted HIGHER taxes and HIGHER government spending?

    But if you look at the overall level of taxation and government spending – there was a massive INCREASE after 1979 (basically all the spending plans of the outgoing Labour government were kept to)

    Other things that Conservatives wanted?

    An end to the Race Relations Industry – did not happen, the “anti discrimination laws” are strong than ever.

    Recognise the internal settlement in Zim-Rho – again did not happen.

    And on and on.

    Conservative voters lost and lost – and lost again. Even though we won the elections.

    And that was with Mrs Thatcher – so what is one to expect with Mrs May?

    Yes elections matter – but, again, not as much as people are taught to think they do.

    The permanent government (established as far back as the late Victorian period) means that talk of “democracy” is a bit much.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way I am not uncritical of democracy – after all I am, to some extent, an admirer of the long 18th century (1688 to 1832) when real power was in the hands of a small minority of land owners (although taxes and debt were much higher in 1832 than they had been in 1688 so I am not an uncritical admirer of he long 18th century).

    It is just that blaming “democracy” for-this-or-that is not really fair – as we do not really have democracy.

    Americans may have had democracy in the time of (say) President Grant – with most men (although not women) having the vote (including most black men), and the elected President having the right to hire and fire officials.

    Now one can certainly attack that democracy – for its corruption and so on, but it is a democratic system one is attacking. Although even in the 1870s black men were losing the vote in various Southern States – with armed revolts subverting democracy in such States as North Carolina and Mississippi (and in the case of Mississippi the excuse of “democracy was corrupt” turns out to have been a LIE, as the elected Republican Governor was NOT corrupt).

    President Trump – the man in a golden cage (but still a cage) pulling leavers that are not attached to anything, and openly plotted against by “public servants” who are really MASTERS of the public. That is NOT democracy.

    Perhaps someone with a detailed knowledge of how government works could still have a real effect on policy (I hope so) – but the professional and permanent government makes it all very difficult.

  • Paul Marks

    As for when power was in the hands of the taxpayers in Britain.

    I suppose that was between 1832 to 1867 – the power of the taxpayers over government was certainly not absolute between those dates, but it was important.

    The taxpayers (income tax payers after the reintroduction of income tax at the start of the 1840s) mostly had the vote – and non taxpayers mostly did not.

    In the American context one did not have to think in these terms – because the Federal income tax did not exist till 1913.

  • Paul Marks

    Do the people have any power at all in Britain?

    I do not know – we shall have to see if we actually leave the European Union (if E.U. law is no longer valid here).

    If we do not leave the European Union, if E.U. law continues to be effect here, then one can safely say that the people have no power at all here – that democracy is not mostly a sham, that it is totally a sham.

    After all the people have had a direct vote on this (the end of E.U. law here) – so if it does not go into real effect, the whole democracy thing is an absolute farce. Which is what “Vince” Cable and his followers want – the facade of democracy, not the real thing. In whatever part of Hell Jeremy Bentham is in – he would smile with approval of “Vince” Cable and his “Liberal Democrats” who are neither liberal nor democratic.

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    I think the current obsession with education came about because, in the 19th century, governments found out that teaching little children to read, write and do basic arithmetic gave a boost to the economy. Therefore, they reasoned, sending all – or at least a large proportion of – young people to university would give it an even bigger boost. I call this the aspirin analogy. Sometimes, if I’ve slept awkwardly, I’ll wake up with a muscle ache, so I take a couple of aspirin. (They might be old fashioned, but they’re cheap and I’ve found them to be as good as anything else.) Taking two aspirin makes me feel better, so if I take twenty-four, I’ll feel really great. Right? The answer of course is no: it doesn’t work like that. And the same is true of education: more is not necessarily better.

    As for the mania for college degrees, America has a special problem. Employers used to routinely require that job candidates have a high school diploma. Then, in 1971, the Supreme Court, in its Griggs vs. Duke Power decision ruled that, because blacks are less likely to have a high school diploma than whites, requiring one for a job is racial discrimination and therefore illegal. In consequence, employers started asking for a college degree instead.

    EggBaskets: I believe it was the British-born but now American conservative commentator John Derbyshire who said that there are conservative academics, but they tend to be confined to those subjects where it is required at some point to take a square root.

  • David

    @Sam Duncan
    “You’d be surprised at the occupations that didn’t require a university education in the past. My father recalls that one of the partners in the small law firm where he served as an apprentice in the 1950s didn’t have a degree. ”
    Did he notice any problem with this person’s ability?

  • PersonFromPorlock, September 13, 2017 at 2:55 pm and September 14, 2017 at 12:44 pm: good ideas. Your proposed game should include an ability to get all the social benefits of university without the cost (and without being under PC authorities). Natalie and I both know people who (via D&D, SF and similar) joined university societies and had all the social benefits (ending with marrying students and progressing to good jobs), without ever formally attending Oxford or getting a degree, etc. They had to live within viable commuting distance, of course, but with so many attending university, there are so many universities scattered around the country that many now do.

    By contrast, Fraser Orr’s idea (September 13, 2017 at 6:19 pm) of buying out a student’s ability to vote in exchange for nulling their debt might address Natalie’s post’s issue very directly: but before roaring ahead on that, let’s check the political leanings of which ones would take this offer and which would not. There is also the point that Fraser proposes it be lifetime ban but many students mature in their views in later years – e.g. Perry de Havilland (September 13, 2017 at 2:02 pm). And would it be at all political feasible???

    PersonFromPorlock’s idea of a tax on employers of degree-holders (just enough to separate the worth-employing STEM degrees from the lesbian dance theory BAs) would be much more politically feasible, of course – a tax always is! – and could even be spun as compassionate to the less fortunate.

  • Laird

    “let’s check the political leanings of which ones would take this offer and which would not.”

    There’s no real way to know, of course, but let’s work through the problem. At first blush, one would think that it would be those whose degree is unlikely to afford them any realistic prospect of ever aspiring to a substantial income or wealth, so they will be saddled with that debt for the rest of their lives. But then it occurs that anyone who would choose such a degree in the first place (a) probably lacks the intellectual capacity to think that through, and (b) values his right to vote, and thus “change society” (he believes), highly enough that he would reject the offer. Whereas the really bright students (most of whom will be seeking degrees in rigorous fields, probably including at least some amount of mathematics or at least logical reasoning) will likely recognize that the present value of debt forgiveness is far greater than the lifetime value of their single vote, and thus will accept the offer with alacrity. And, unfortunately, those are the very people (intelligent, rational and informed) who we should want to be voting. So on reflection, while Fraser’s idea is certainly intriguing I think it’s a bad one.

  • bobby b

    “Whereas the really bright students . . . will likely recognize that the present value of debt forgiveness is far greater than the lifetime value of their single vote, and thus will accept the offer with alacrity.”

    Plus, the smart people will realize that, with a little effort and some persuasive proselytizing, one’s most effective power to affect elections lies in convincing others to vote as they would have voted.

    We each get one vote. I’d bet that most of the people that comment here persuade a great many more voters to vote their way in important elections. If you put any effort into it, your one vote is but a small part of your democratic power.

  • Laird

    There is some of that, bobby b, but as a practical matter the people over whom I would have such influence generally vote the way I do anyway. But of greater importance (as I see it) is that I expend a significant amount of effort in cultivating good personal relationships with elected representatives in my state, both mine and others, so when issues of significance come up in the legislature I can influence how they vote on them. It’s a long game, but pays far more dividends than simply voting in elections. My single vote is pretty much irrelevant (I would sell it in a heartbeat!); leverage over legislators is immensely powerful.