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Thanks in part to Mr Johnson writing articles to stir up English antipathy towards the Scots, there may not be a "Britain" to be the Athens of anything. If he really means "England", he should say so.

Very safe ground, Boris: a touch of believing in apple pie and motherhood.
Once you have stopped reminding us that you read Classics perhaps you could move on to the really substantive problems of Higher Education. How do we enable bright children from a poor background to make progress? I know that you were never in that position, Boris, but I was. Do you know what worked for me? It was the Grammar School system. What do you think, Boris, would that be a solution? Or what about a Voucher system?
I'm sorry, is your brain hurting? Oh well, relax and think of something more enjoyable - remember the good old days at the Bullingdon Club? There, there - that's better, isn't it?

Elegant bit of strategic campaigning. A most eloquent and persuasive conservative writer taking the bleeding-obvious-to-anybody-but-them into the heart of the enemy's camp - the paper read by more 'educationists'; than any other. They will read him assiduously, slavering at the prospect of a megafisk, only to find themselves agreeing, in their hearts, with (most of) what he says. Well, all but their nut fringe.

Call me a romantic, but I think that's neat.

Go, Boris.

Is Boris advocating that the Mickey Mouse degree courses should continue? If so, why? And does he think the (Labour) 50% target of school leavers going on to university might have something to do with these Mickey Mouse courses?

I'm all for intellectual transformations, but we need to be realistic about what a university should offer, and to whom. This is not snobbery but common sense. I'd be happier with a plumber as a son-in-law than a meeja studies graduate.

I wish the Tory party would give up the bogus guilt trip (Boris's "We have jettisoned our sour, mealy-mouthed and intellectually incoherent programme" an excellent example of it) and remember that grammar schools worked, and apprenticeships worked.

Og - if Mickey Mouse courses aren't worth the cash in terms of future employment value then students (who have to pay for them- debts of £20k plus) will stop applying - market forces work you know. Doesn't need top down micro-management.

In the long run, you're right, Ted, but never underestimate the fecklessness of youth.

Ted for market forces to work there has to be an alternative available. Apprenticeships in the traditional sense have been dead for a number of years. 2 years studying college does not a plumber/joiner/bricklayer make? The target of shifting school leavers off the unemployment figures (started by ourselves IIRC) has been continued by Labour and their 50% higher education target.

As Og rightly points out we should be advocating that the opportunity is available to all and is not limited to a strata of our society. Meritocracy is what we should be advocating so that the brightest and best from all levels of society are able to have the opportunity to better both themselves and our society.

Whether we deliver this through the use of vouchers or through the reintroduction of grammar schools then we should advocate this from the rooftops. I for one am sick and tired of politicians and educationalists tinkering with children’s education and by default their lives through their continued failed interventions. Preparing children for the future by ensuring that they have a rigorous intellectual experience that provides the opportunity to learn and develop their natural talents (be it academic, sporting, or mechanical) should take primacy.

Is Boris being real? I have never heard such rubbish, he seems to have finally flipped! Maybe he should go back and concentrate on his TV work. There is no direct correlation between the % of the population that goes to university and economic growth and even if more people go to university it does not take into account the academic standard attained. If Boris seriously believes what he is purported to have said, that is worrying!

This is horrible stuff. BJ is perpetuating the lie that what might apply to the top universities applies to them all.

Ted says that "market forces work you know" -- well actually they don't always. There is such a thing as market failure -- and the risk of that is very high when the people being asked to make the decisions are teenagers using money they won't have to repay for years.

Why else do we have physics and chemistry departments closing down across the country, while forensic science courses blossom?

"There is such a thing as market failure -- and the risk of that is very high when the people being asked to make the decisions are teenagers using money they won't have to repay for years."

How is that market failure? If they choose to spend the money elsewhere they should be allowed to, that is how free markets work. Their decisions might be stupid but they will suffer the consequences.

I have no objection to the Mickey Mouse Courses remaining and universities expanding further providing it is the students and not the taxpayers who have to fund it.

"If Universities UK says our universities contribute £45bn to the economy, I am not going to quibble."

No, but maybe it's worth thinking what this actually means, and for that the ONS has produced a "nugget" on how GDP is calculated:


"In the UK three different theoretical approaches are used in the estimation of one GDP estimate.

GDP from the output or production approach - GDP(O) measures the sum of the value added created through the production of goods and services within the economy (our production or output as an economy). This approach provides the first estimate of GDP and can be used to show how much different industries (for example, agriculture) contribute within the economy.

GDP from the income approach - GDP(I) measures the total income generated by the production of goods and services within the economy. The figures provided breakdown this income into, for example, income earned by companies (corporations), employees and the self employed.

GDP from the expenditure approach - GDP(E) measures the total expenditures on all finished goods and services produced within the economy."

Essentially GDP only reflects the volume of money transactions in the country, and it doesn't necessarily reflect the intrinsic value being created. This is one reason why Gordon Brown prefers mothers to be in paid employment, rather than doing unpaid work at home, when they're very rudely classified as "economically inactive" - because even if exactly the same work is just shifted from an upaid basis, to a paid basis, he can still boast of "economic growth", and potentially he can tax that work. Apparently £45 billion pa is passing through the "university sector" of the economy, but that's all it means. It doesn't tell us how much of the expanded "university sector" is a complete waste of time and money.

No more apple pie than reforming the EU?

This is far from Boris's best speech. I frequently have had to interview new graduates some of whom have studies 'Mickey Mouse' subjects at 'Mickey Mouse' institutions and my heart breaks at meeting some of these young people. Many are up to their eyeballs in debt with little chance of getting a job that would normally be considered of graduate calibre.It would have been better for them and the State if they had not spent three extra years studying at all. I remain unconvinced that our HE policy at the 2005 election was wrong.Boris is going to have to do much better than this to convince me.

Good show. What what?

Richard: "How is that market failure?"

Market economists assume perfect information i.e. that people know what is good for them.

In this case they clearly don't.

Besides, in any society it is obvious that the number of man hours that can be optimally devoted to learning is limited.

When it comes to deciding on the allocation of those resources the state intervenes massively to create a situation in which most of the decisions over that allocation are made by teenagers.

Now ask yourself is that remotely sensible?

We have had student fees for how long? Most teenagers I know applying to University have parents who are well aware of the value of money and the teenagers themselves recognise they are ging into debt to significant amounts. The growth in so called Mickey Mouse degrees happened when the risk was on the taxpayer not the student.

What Boris is saying is that we need to stop arguing about what was and look at what is and what will be. Increasingly Universities are ceasing to be state funded institutions - with endowments, student fees/loans and other income sources they will become largely self funding. Oxford and Cambridge could probabaly declare UDI today if they had the will and ignore Gordon Brown's dead hand. Alternative sources of student loans from institutions with good relations to them would probably step in the breach.

I would like to see our party policy support our universities in getting to the status of self governing, self financing institutions (sell Channel 4 and BBC Radio and set up endowments across the board).

"Oxford and Cambridge could probabaly declare UDI today if they had the will and ignore Gordon Brown's dead hand. "

Trinity College on its own has assets near £1 billion...

I think our policy on higher education is very good. I saw Boris talk about it at the conference last year. It makes sense that we support universities in growing and improving standards.

He doesn't talk at all about getting a set proportion of people into higher education as possible, I think it would be unwise to claim that. What he wants is for everyone to have the opportunity to go to university and study what they want to study. Degrees aren't meant to be vocational, and I think that a degree in media studies is as useful as a degree in chemistry for someone that wants to go into finance, for example. We don't want a country full of Chemistry graduates, just more of them.

Another policy we have is to target more funding towards the sciences. Makes sense really, people can study what they like, but there is an incentive to keep Physics departments open.

Bit of a parson's egg this speech. Yes, opposition to variable fees was silly, but I must say I thought the evidence was that university education made no difference to national wealth. (See Wolf, "Does Education Matter".)

The fifth policy instrument is worth developing. Rephrase it along the lines of "Sell all universities to private sector. Use all proceeds to endow said universities to permit needs blind access."

Richard: "How is that market failure?"

"Market economists assume perfect information i.e. that people know what is good for them."

Not all of them do. Many market economists accept that people won't have perfect information but that a market system is a far superior method for allocating resources amongst millions upon millions of different desires.

"When it comes to deciding on the allocation of those resources the state intervenes massively to create a situation in which most of the decisions over that allocation are made by teenagers."

I'd rather it didn't. As long as I don't have to fund their education they can do what they want with their own money.

What Oh. Good show. Bonzer.

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