On 17 July 2023 prime minister Sunak announced that his government would crack down on rip-off university degrees and poor, low-value university courses. More on this later.
What is Education, its Meaning and Purpose?
"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all."- Aristotle
This is How Wisdom Grows- Educating Hearts and Minds
‘Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
You reconcile all beings in the world.'- Lao Tzu
‘Observers, and concerned citizens, have, again and again, stated that education influences, and reflects the values of society and the kind of society we want to be. They recognise education as a route to the spiritual, moral, social, cultural, physical and mental development and thus, the cornerstone of the well-being of the individual, family, community, and the country at large.
Furthermore, it can be argued that the single minded focus on economic growth over much of the twentieth century has led to an erosion of human values. At the same time, there is an emerging new consciousness worldwide that affirms shared values of Peace, Equity, Social Justice, Democracy, Human Rights, Environmental Protection and Nurturing. These values are enshrined in the UN Charter and all other International Conventions and Declarations…’- A New Decade and a New Vision for Education
In the Idea of a University, the Conservative philosopher, political theorist and educator, Michael Oakeshott, described one of the boons of student life as the opportunity “to look for some meaning in the things that have greatly moved mankind”. Higher education, he wrote, should be an interval during which the undergraduate will have “learned something to help him lead a more significant life”.
On that basis, as elequently noted in an editorial in the Guardian, ‘ one suspects that Oakeshott would have given short shrift to the dispiriting assumptions underlying Rishi Sunak’s proposed new crackdown on “low-value degrees” – a status to be defined principally by reference to earnings after graduation. Endorsing language that is gratuitously insulting to academics, Mr Sunak has pledged to cap numbers on what his government describes as “rip-off” university degrees that don’t lead to a well-paid, highly skilled job. This is a dismally narrow and instrumental view of higher education. It casually disregards the myriad benefits that a degree course can offer a young person, beyond a job at the end of it. From an enhanced capacity to think critically, to the widening of social horizons and the pleasures of independent study, attending university offers far more than a mere route to the workplace.
‘But Mr Sunak’s reductionist rhetoric is also disingenuous…The threat to cap – and even close – courses is another move designed to limit Treasury exposure to the failing fees-based model of higher education.
‘Adequate quality control is a must at every university. But the consequences of these plans would be deeply unfair and inegalitarian. The proposed caps would be likely to have next to no effect on Oxbridge and the Russell Group universities, whose prestigious brands and demographic intake ensure more students go on to better-paid jobs. The endangered “rip-off” courses will turn out to be overwhelmingly in less glamorous institutions and poorer regions, disproportionately attended by less well-off and minority ethnic students. This is socially regressive policymaking.
…’No one who has witnessed the abject efforts of previous Conservative governments in this area will hold their breath. In the meantime, Mr Sunak should take some time out to read Oakeshott’s The Idea of a University.’- Read the entire editorial HERE
P.S. After reading Michael Oakesshott’s The Idea of a University, I highly recommend the timeless book by my late mentor Prof. Fr. Peter Milward: Wisdom and the Well-Rounded Life: What Is a University? to Mr. Sunak to read and be inspired, not by economic forces alone, but more importantly by humanity and goodness, discovering what it means to be human.
Now, first and foremost, in order to better understand what this announcement really means, there are pertinent questions which we should try to find a truthful answer to: Do our recently elected or selected leaders believe that they indeed did receive high-value education, teaching and degrees themselves?
Did they in their educational and learning journies learn about values such as honesty, integrity, truthfulness, transparency, accountability, moral/spiritual compass, love, kindness, compassion, service, volunteerism, doing/saying/acting good in public life, respect for mother nature and our sacred earth, sympathy and empathy for those weaker, more vulnerable and less able than themselves and such like, and thus, are they amply qualified to tell us what is good or bad education, or what is right or wrong, or how we should choose our schools and universities and indeed, how to lead our lives?
The pertinent question is: Are these guys good enough and the
right people to champion good education?
Composite: PA/EPA/Getty/via the Guardian
Dear Prime Ministers of the past, current and future,
Please allow me to begin this write up with words that I hope are inspiring and thought provoking, encouraging you to wonder more deeply on the stories of your lives, who you are and what you are:
Education is the foundation for a good and fulfilling life, setting the individual on a path of personal fulfilment, economic security and societal contribution. Today the world of knowledge and competence is in a constant state of flux. The same can be said for the universe of visions, aspirations, and dreams. For many centuries it had been considered that education in general and universities in particular were responsible for the moral and social development of students and for bringing together diverse groups for the common good. Is this still the case?
What is the main role and function of a "good" education? To equip students with marketable skills to help countries compete in a global, information-based workplace? Has this overwhelmed other historically important purposes of education, and thus, short- changing us all and in particular the students?
If there is a shared national purpose for education, should it be oriented only toward enhancing the narrow vision of a country's economic success? Should education be answerable only to a narrowly defined economic bottom line, or do we need to discover a more comprehensive, inclusive bottom line, given the catastrophic crises that we are witnessing all around us? Are the interests of the individuals and selective groups overwhelming the common good that the education system is meant to support? Should our cherished educational values be all up for sale to the highest bidder? Should private sector management become the model for our mainly publicly-funded education system? Should the language and terminology of for profit- only business model, such as “downsizing”, “outsourcing”, “restructuring”, ”marketisation”, “privatisation” and “deregulation”, amongst others, be allowed to become the values of education, when teaching and learning is nothing short of a vocation and sacrament?
The current global crisis has given us a golden opportunity to ask ourselves some fundamental questions on the role of education in building better lives and a better world. Soul- searching and self-criticism should not be seen as a source of weakness, but as a source of strength, humility and the search for wisdom.’: The Value of Values: Values-led Education to Make the World Great Again
What are the benefits of the supposedly prestigious, high-value, private public schooling in the UK, when they keep churning up people with questionable values, characters with low moral compass and no work ethics?
Photo: Via the Guardian
Boris Johnson, centre front, at Eton.
‘Everyone who was not us, a boy at a private boarding school from the late 70s to the early 80s, was beneath us’
‘Paraphrasing the timeless and prophetic words of Socrates, Oh dear Eton Posh Boys why do you care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honour and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed of this? For I go about doing nothing else than urging you, young and old, not to care for your persons or your property more than for the perfection of your souls, or even so much; and I tell you that virtue does not come from money, but from virtue comes money and all other good things to man, both the individual and to the state.
‘Part of the English disease is our readiness to ascribe our national disasters to questions of personal character. But the vanities of posh men and their habit of dragging us into catastrophe have much deeper roots. They centre on an ancient system that trains a narrow caste of people to run our affairs, but also ensures they have almost none of the attributes actually required. If this country is to belatedly move into the 21st century, this is what we will finally have to confront: a great tower of failings that, to use a very topical word, are truly institutional.’- John Harris, ‘Britain’s overgrown Eton schoolboys have turned the country into their playground’
Time to Feel Outraged, Confused and Flabbergasted
Rishi Sunak, preparatory schooling at Oakmount and Stroud School. Then, from early 1990s to around 1998 he attended Winchester College, a prestigious Hampshire public school. He then read Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at Lincoln College Oxford, graduating in 2001. Soon after he subsequently studied at Stanford University in California – where he earned a Masters degree in Business Administration. During his time at Oxford University, Sunak undertook an internship at Conservative Central Office, and joined the Conservative Party. After graduating, Sunak worked for Goldman Sachs and later as a partner at the hedge fund firms The Children's Investment Fund Management and Theleme Partners.
And now with such an ‘illustrious’ and extra ‘prestigious’ background in education and teaching, Mr. Sunak has taken on himself to guide and educate the nation on the perils of ‘Low-value’ education and the wonders of ‘High-value’ courses and degrees. We must be blessed and grateful for his wisdom and insights that he has been able to learn and muster in a relatively short and unbeliveably uneventful life journey so far. Quite remarkable!
I don’t know about you, but I cannot understand and fathom out what our 5th Tory prime minister in the span of a few years, in the midst of multiple national and international crises, can teach us about ‘low-value’ education and degrees? Does he believe that he, or for that matter, the other four before him, which collectively have brought our country to its knees and have in the process devalued and debased the moral and spiritual fabric of our society and institutions, did receive a ‘high-value’ and worthwhile education and degree, so that he is now qualified enough to tell the rest of us to follow in his footsteps?
First, let us see what words of wisdom and inspiration he had uttered regarding what education is or what it ought to be.
Sunak to force English universities to cap numbers of students on ‘low-value’ degrees
‘Move penalises courses with a high proportion of working-class or minority ethnic students, critics say’
Read a summary of his announcement and plans HERE
Dear prime minister Sunak, I have written my personal manifesto, my oath and my values on what I believe to be a good teaching philosophy and on what a values-led education and university might look like.
It would have been great and very useful if, you too, had at one point done likewise.
A Reflection on Rishi Sunak’s plan to cap student numbers for some university courses
‘Rishi Sunak’s definition of a “low-value” degree – one that doesn’t lead to a graduate job, postgraduate studies or starting a business – has a very narrow focus.
*'It takes no account of first-in-family students, for whom attending their local university is a massive achievement. Most of these aren’t Russell Group universities, but they are institutions valued by their local community. Many taking “low-value” degrees will be working class, ethnic minority, disabled or mature students, some of whom are unable to relocate for their higher education or any subsequent professional role due to a lack of resources or because of familial commitments.
This policy fails to acknowledge deep-seated regional and structural inequalities, the lack of graduate roles in some parts of the country, and widespread discrimination in the job market against many of the types of students who study “low-value” degrees.
Siân Lawrence, Mature, working-class, first-in-family PhD student, Durham University
*‘Government proposals to cap the student numbers on what they define as low-value degrees show once again the limits of market-driven thinking when applied to education. The value of a university degree can manifest itself in many ways after graduation.
Higher education is a public good as it produces better-informed citizens trained in academic methodologies, whether in Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or the humanities, who can make evidence-based decisions in their communities and families, thus strengthening and enriching our society as well as our economy. Other OECD countries recognise the benefits of mass education in the era of knowledge economies and have higher rates of participation than the UK.
Julian Preece,Council for the Defence of British Universities
*‘One of the very many depressing things about our prime minister’s crusade against low-value degrees is that value to him automatically means “economic value”. That makes a kind of sense in a context where degrees are funded by a fee-based model that encourages students to think of themselves as consumers buying a product.
Yet there’s an irony in that it’s degrees that are often treated as low-value (such as the one I teach, English) that encourage students to reflect on the ways that different systems of value – moral, aesthetic, political, economic – overlap, pull apart and conflict with one another. It’s a shame that conversations about degrees tend to prioritise one kind of worth over all others.
Dr Chris Townsend,Christ’s College, Cambridge
*‘Robin Walker MP, the chair of the education select committee, said: “Given the substantial amounts of public money that go into supporting students to go to universities, I think it’s legitimate for the government to look at where that delivers value.” Would he like to look at the value of the Oxford degree in politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) given to three out of the last five prime ministers? David Cameron held the referendum that took us out of the EU. Liz Truss broke the economy. Rishi Sunak is not in line to reach his objectives. The track record of PPE suggests it is of low value to the country.
Ann Lynch,Skipton, North Yorkshire
(For the original source of the above comments please see What’s the real worth of ‘low-value’ degrees? (The Guardian 19 July 2023)
‘No, Rishi Sunak, ‘rip-off’ degree courses aren’t the problem – failed education policy is’
‘The UK has some of the world’s leading toll bridges. But a minority of toll bridges fail to deliver good outcomes for their drivers. Figures show that nearly three in 10 drivers have still not reached their destination within an hour of crossing a toll bridge. The government will crack down on these rip-off toll bridges, reducing the number of drivers they can carry.
If a minister made an announcement of this kind, you would wonder if they had lost their mind. But higher education policy has become so overloaded with fallacious economic and cultural reasoning over recent years that we scarcely register the full absurdity of Rishi Sunak’s announcement this week that his government would crack down on “rip-off” university degrees.
Sunak’s logic is a bleak one that would have sounded both ridiculous and nihilistic prior to the Cameron government. Students and taxpayers expect a “good return on the significant financial investment they make in higher education”, the government tells us. The problem is that some courses fail to deliver “good outcomes”, and so the government plans to cap the numbers they can recruit…’- Continue to readu
Now that we have, hopefully, discovered more about the absurdity of Rishi Sunak’s plans to deliver ‘better’ education, the fundamental questions are:
What is a good education? What is a high value university degree? How might we achieve these goals?
To answer these and other similarly important questions, I can do no better that directing you to our GCGI archive, from where I have noted a selction below for your perusal:
GCGI is our journey of hope and the sweet fruit of a labour of love. It is free to access, and it is ad-free too. We spend hundreds of hours, volunteering our labour and time, spreading the word about what is good and what matters most. If you think that's a worthy mission, as we do—one with powerful leverage to make the world a better place—then, please consider offering your moral and spiritual support by joining our circle of friends, spreading the word about the GCGI and forwarding the website to all those who may be interested.