Too many people go to university

Universities occupy a crucial part of the economy as centres of learning. Yet not everyone should go to university and receive a degree. That statement is today controversial – the Government’s goal is to significantly increase the proportion of  students who receive a university education.

But if it is better that a higher percentage of the population receive a university education, then why stop at 30, 40 or 50 per cent? Why not aim for 100 per cent?

That would be ludicrous, and if one accepts that 100 per cent is too high, then one recognises that there must be some optimal maximum.

We know from research that the highest positive externaties in education may be found in primary and early secondary education (such as literacy). As one advances, the externalities shrink on average as the benefits of the education (especially tertiary) are internalised.

There is some level of education that is optimal for 100 per cent of the population to reach – this was previously considered the school certificate (year 10) or thereabouts. With the changing nature of our economy, there may be arguments that the optimal level is now a HSC (year 12) education for the majority of the population.

But it should always be recognised that there are opportunity costs associated with education. These include skills developed / honed in work, foregone wages, the distraction of teachers having to spend disproportional time on less able students, and the distraction to better students by less able students.

We also need to consider efficiency: we have people spending more time at schools and universities for effectively the same outcomes. Are we better having nurses, journalists, etc having university degrees? I think not – at least not for the work in which they are employed (there may be internalised benefits for the student undertaking the degree that are not work-related, or they might make the individual more flexible and marketable to different jobs).

I think we have too many people going to university in many western countries

The growth in student numbers has led also to the growth in the demand from university lecturers, especially in the easier disciplines such as the humanities (arts). This in turn is probably behind the significant growth in the public service to provide employment to these graduates. Whole departments and disciplines have grown around creating employment opportunities for these second-rate graduates – witness the climate change movement which manages to pump out the most boring and unoriginal nonsense seen in hundreds of years. The people working in the climate change industry could more productively be employed in a trade – after all, they can barely carry one abstract thought at a time.

So too for many of the lecturers / researchers in these disciplines, those such as gender studies, fat studies, postmodernism, film studies – and numerous other examples in arts faculties. These are mind sapping and useless piffle of increasingly esoteric subjects that need ever more academics specialising in these “fields”.

In my view the humanities should be cut back to  the core: fine arts, language and linguistics, ancient and medieval history.

The growth in the number of students going to university has led inexorably to the growth in the victim industry and a growth in the number of lawyers. It has led to a massive growth in the human rights industry – which has little to do with what most would consider human rights (such as free speech and freedom from detention and seizure).

As Ed Cooke stated when asked why he didn’t want to become a lawyer

I consider the law to be a zero-sum game, and therefore a pointless use of a life. Being good at being a lawyer means merely, on average, maximising injustice.

There is one common factor: employment for most of these graduates is in the public sector, directly or indirectly. In a free market, there would be fewer lawyers, fewer climate change scientists, fewer indigenous campaigners and so forth. Demand for these “services” has been boosted by the Government – either purchasing directly, or by subsidies / regulations that create an artificial demand. Think of all the people working (profiting, yes!) from working at NGOs /not-for-profit organisations. All the people working in international institutions. All this employment created because we have over educated people who think it beneath them to engage in hard labour. In short, the education industry has created demand for the ‘left-wing intellectual’ who is anything but intelligent, and who is pure consumer. A person who produces nothing of value.

Let’s restore universities to their rightful place in society: a place for elite education in difficult / complex and groundbreaking subjects.

About Samuel J

Samuel J has an economics background and is a part-time consultant
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