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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Scandal at London Metropolitan University

Last week, here in the UK, a scandal erupted, like a volcano, and damage done, it just as quickly subsided. Perhaps this is because all the interested parties are desperate for the wreckage to be discretely cleared with as little fuss as possible so that there is no lasting harm to the environment, in this case the higher educational environment.

London Metropolitan University (LMU) had its authority to issue student visas to people outside of the European Community revoked. It means that up to 2,600 students will need to either find a new university willing to take them or be deported, and they have till December this year to do it. Unsurprisingly, the University has cried foul and is suing the customs authority!

Some facts:

  1. The British university industry was worth £40 billion last year. Let me say that again. British universities (not colleges, just universities) did business this last year to the tune of forty thousand million pounds sterling.
  2. Foreign students contributed £13 billion last year to the UK economy.   They paid a minimum of £12,000 each, per year, to study here (English students now pay up to £9,000 per year for the same privilege). But all this is in payment for an inadequate and substantially devalued education, more about that later.
  3. It is a scam which encourages a corrupt education system because the bigger the number of students, the greater the prestige for the UK industry as a whole and the higher the salaries that will be demanded by the professors for their services.
  4. I object to this arrangement because those that can afford to come here are under no obligation to demonstrate tolerance towards the natives with whom they interact nor do they need to leave behind their repugnant prejudices.  And their professors will bow down in worship to anyone who aids them in increasing their prestige and their power.  As a consequence, heightened anti-Jewish radicalism has not been discouraged by universities that view the contribution of their client roster to their wallet or purse as infinitely more important than integrity, or the safety of their fellow citizens.
  5. The London Metropolitan University has objected on the grounds that:
a)     everyone was doing it
b)     the rules changed 14 times over 3 years so they couldn’t ‘cope’
c)  LMU students spoke 100 separate languages, the standards were never standardised, it is therefore ‘impossible’ to deliver a test that is accurate for everyone.

First a reminder.  This is an Institution of Higher Education. The state, your taxes and mine provide hundreds of millions of pounds to each institution because it is understood that they are ALL capable of doing research and coming up with solutions.

The reality is a little more complicated.  I completed a course at my wife’s former college and the lecturer used her own slides, they were grammatically incorrect and some were misspelled.  She gave answers to questions on the test paper because she did not cover the material during the course.  Some 500 colleges have had their licences to sponsor international students removed (because the new rules made it too difficult for them to manage the process ‘safely’).

It would appear that the initial premise of higher education authorities being entrusted with devolved authority to authorise applications by foreign nationals to study in the UK was based on a logically flawed, in fact wildly naïve idea that Universities would behave with legal probity, in contradiction to their own self-interest.  In fact all that happened is that the UK Border Agency was once again scapegoated for what must have been a cynical Foreign Office ploy.

What is the difference between a college and a university? In theory a university carries out research while a college should only teach vocational courses. In practice most colleges offer lots of courses unconnected to vocational training.  The problem becomes focussed when we realise the slight of hand that government carried out some years ago when it reclassified some 200 colleges as universities. They did not seek to demonstrably increase the quality of education provided but for the newly reclassified universities their revenues sky-rocketed. Today there are 147 ‘Universities’ in the UK (that is the number I was able to find listed via web search).  Some of those ‘universities’ are the amalgamation of former geographically unconnected colleges.

The penultimate audit carried out 6 months ago stated that London Metropolitan University had not carried out audits of its own as required: It failed to adequately monitor classroom attendance, barely knew who it had on its classroom registers, did not monitor the level of English knowledge its students had and did not check to see if its students were legally permitted to reside in the UK (many were not). This is incredible because what it means is that the university took students money but:

  1. Did not bother to check that students attended classes (one has to assume that if they were not in receipt of bursaries then they were earning very good money to make up for their annual fees)
  2. Many of LMU’s students had so incomplete a knowledge of the English language it was simply inconceivable that they should be accepted to study a course taught in the English language.
  3. Britain’s Universities are the lungs of Islamic radicalisation. Three heads of University Islamic Societies in London have been convicted of terrorist offences (one tried to blow up a British plane). If they are so irresponsible that they accept people they cannot be bothered to monitor in the way a normal university monitors its ‘real’ students then they become complicit in terrorism and, murder.
Secret files obtained by The Daily Telegraph and Wiki Leaks early in 2011 disclosed that at least 35 terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay were indoctrinated by extremists in Britain.

And now London Metropolitan University is complaining because it may be forced to repay funds provided for fictitious students.

Six months on from the first Border Agency Audit Report they found that none of the faults or criticisms cited had been addressed.  Unsurprisingly, they withdrew their license.

But it gets worse.

A friend’s elder son graduated recently from a three year degree course in Psychology.  He is lucky to have had a steady part time job that (when he completed his degree) has now become his means of making a living. He works as a store-man, check-out jockey and general shop assistant at his local supermarket but he now has a degree to prove he can do it. 

His degree cost £8,500 per year excluding accommodation and living expenses. It started each year at the end of September, in theory going through to mid July the next year (which would be ok because after 2 term-breaks, again in theory this is equal to 8 months study). In practice, excluding term-breaks of over one month, his course ended each year at the Easter break (end of April) so he effectively paid for a degree course that lasted at most 6 months. That is English university education!  What also has to be factored into the overall cost of education is that he will have been paying rent for 12 months and not 6 months.

There is a far more serious issue here as well.

Some 35 years ago a study was commissioned that revealed some surprising results. 80% of all jobs that were filled by university graduates could as easily have been done by those who left school at the end of high-school and did not continue their studies.  But the lobby for the commercial sector vigorously promoted the idea that it was the responsibility of government to prepare the young for the world of work.  Taxation had already paid for this unquantifiable benefit. Education was simply, not their problem. Government failed to argue against this proposition but it could not afford to fund higher education on its own. Hence we created a monster that grows ever more bloated by the year and with increasing corpulence has come greater arrogance and a high-minded self-aggrandizement that disfigures the national economy as it is destroying society.

Those people who want to learn are being failed by an academic education system that has no ethical responsibility towards the society that hosts it.

I feel sure that length of semester (term) and exorbitant pricing of academic study are world-wide phenomena; let us call it a contagion.   Not everyone can be a shelf-filler with a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA) but this is also a worldwide curse.  Similarly, to do a basic secretarial or administrative job with typing, filing and timetable coordination for the boss requires a BA whereas 5-10 years ago an 18 year old could have done it blindfolded. They still could but without a degree they are more likely to now be unemployable.

And that is the tragedy that awaits our youth today.  Too many of them are doomed to drifting and hopelessness.  Democratic Society has betrayed its contract with its citizens.

This is the urgent problem that society is desperately in need of addressing.

We should start by dividing education at aged 14 (or younger) into vocational and scholarly tracks that permit our youth to decide on going forward into a university path or apprenticeship.  The jobs that we may learn via apprenticeship (and most jobs fall into this category) should be returned to industry. If we have to, give them tax breaks.

If society is to be saved we need to approach this subject with brutal honesty, not personal ego and prestige.

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