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Frances Cairncross Talks University Funding

17th September 2012

Keynote speaker on education, Frances Cairncross, spoke to the Independent about the failings of the current education system.

Frances proposes that the current system is not at all fair. Its main beneficiaries are middle-class children who have overwhelmingly taken up the majority of university places in the UK.

“Universities are the 21st century equivalent of the car industry,” says Frances. “Just as, in the 20th century, a successful motor industry brought many other economic benefits, spawning subsidiary industries, export earnings and good jobs, so universities will be central to economic success in this century. They produce the raw material of a flourishing society: thoughtful, articulate and creative young people, trained to ask the right questions and to develop interesting new ideas. Moreover, although other countries can make good cars, Britain's universities are among the world's best.”

“This success is now under threat. And the threat arises from the fact that universities have another vital role, which starves them of cash and distorts the way they behave. Universities are the gateway through which young people must pass in order to join the middle class. The reason is simple: advertising for graduates only is a short cut to targeting applicants who are sufficiently motivated and well-educated to be good white-collar employees. Not surprisingly, university graduates have, on average, higher lifetime earnings than someone without a degree.”

She conceded that it will not be easy for the public to accept the uncomfortable truths that good university education costs money, and families need to carry most of that cost.

“If we continue to ignore these, then we jeopardise the extraordinary international success of our universities.”

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