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The case for vocational education - Editor's Edition for BringItBack

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

We weigh up the merits of vocational training over university degrees in the following two articles. The first, an editorial counter-argument to Janet Daley’s column of 15th August for The Sunday Telegraph (‘Pure education and a life of the mind’), highlights the enormous opportunities for those wishing to pursue an apprentice-backed career.

Editor's Edition for BringItBack - Vocational Education - 16.08.21 (2)
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By contrast the second, from The Economist, points to a record jump in attendance for those applying for university places despite the twin pressures of grade inflation in schools and an unsustainable long-term cost to the country. As the graduate premium continues to dwindle in non-specialised subjects, a day of reckoning is at hand. We cannot go on as we are.

Article for The Economist - The British government's unwanted higher-education boom - 12
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As a final addendum to this section, we include an article written by David Young, Lord Young of Graffham, a former Trade and Industry Secretary under Margaret Thatcher from 1987-89. Published in its own right in our politics section, it includes important recommendations on the importance of practical and vocational training as the best way to 'level up' the country and equip us to meeting the challenges ahead in a post-Brexit, post-Covid world.

It is worth highlighting some of the policy prescriptions needed to make this revival a reality.

"If we are going to Build Back Better, and turn what is no more than an empty political slogan into a reality, then it can never be done by government alone but only by reigniting the enterprise of the people. Let government do what it does best, creating the conditions and the opportunity for new small firms to start – especially in the North and other areas Boris Johnson is so desperate to “level up” – and build a solid economy from the ground up.

Now we are out of the EU, let us create more Enterprise Zones, tax and regulation free areas in the North and reintroduce more successful programmes like the Enterprise Allowance Scheme of old that created so many new businesses at the time.

We could introduce an expanded Start Up Loans programme and provide finance to enable expanding firms to grow. We could stop wasting so much on third-rate universities and reintroduce and expand training colleges and give people the opportunities to create their own future. It is all there for the taking."

Hear, hear to all that!

The article can be read in full here with a link to the original beneath it:

Article for the Daily Telegraph by David Young - Boris Johnson must not turn into the new
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Credit: Narongrit Sritana from iStock


As a final addendum on the matter, Roger Bootle takes a sideways look at our current system of higher education and turns on its head the assumption that we need ever more students sitting ever more degrees in ever expanding colleges.

"For decades now, the mantra has been that we can boost GDP by getting a higher proportion of the population into tertiary education. As evidence in support of this prospect, it has been widely argued that because, on average, people with degrees earn more than people without them, if we equipped more people with degrees then not only would their incomes and living standards rise but GDP would rise as well.

This is one of the most egregious pieces of erroneous economic reasoning that I have ever encountered. Just because graduates on average earn more than non-graduates this in no way means that bedecking more people with degrees will increase their productivity and worth in the labour force.

"A good deal of what the education system does is about segregating the “winners” from the “losers”, even though there may be no intrinsic merit in mastering the knowledge or skills that make you a “winner”. In other words, its activity is purely “distributive” rather than “creative”. But even if much of this educational activity is effectively useless, it is far from being economically neutral because it takes up so many resources.

So here is my big idea to boost the GDP of this country: radically reduce the size of the university sector and with it the proportion of young people taking degrees. How radical? Cutting it in half would be a good start."

The full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it:

Article for the Telegraph by Roger Bootle - Cut the number of graduates in half to give ou
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