Graduates don't rate their degrees

Roger Titcombe's picture

Given Labour’s bold and exciting proposals for a free cradle to grave National Education Service, failures in the further and higher education sectors are also issues for schools.

We are lucky to have six grandchildren, who bring us great joy. The eldest of these will soon be thinking about university and naturally we hope the younger ones will follow: or do we?

My wife and I are both from council house, working class backgrounds and we were the first from either family to go to university. All of our children attended local comprehensive schools in the 1970s and 80s and they too all became graduates and progressed to professional careers.

So what as gone wrong? According to a recent ‘YouGov’ poll, there is considerable dissatisfaction on the part of recent graduates.


“new YouGov Omnibus research among more than 500 current students and recent graduates shows their views on whether university is worth it. It finds that more than a third (35%) of those with a student loan who graduated between 2010 and 2017 disagreed that the “costs of going to university were worth it for the career prospects/learning I gained”.


A lot of the gripes are unsurprisingly related to money, tuition fees and student loans, which helped bring out the youth vote for Labour in the June 2017 General Election.

“When it comes to the costs of a degree, YouGov’s research also finds that there is significant pessimism among both recent graduates and current students with loans about whether they will ever be free of the burden of repayments during their working life. When asked how long they expected it would take to pay off their student loan, 41% of both recent graduates and current students say they don’t think they ever will.”


The government’s Teaching excellence framework (TEF) results 2017, also caused a stir revealing widely disparate teaching standards, including a surprising number of long established, prestigious institutions in the lowest (bronze) category along with perhaps the more expected former non-university Colleges, raised to university status by the Blair higher education reforms and his ambition for half the population to become university graduates.


I was a beneficiary of Harold Wilson’s ‘technological revolution’, graduating in 1969 from a free university education supported by a generous means tested maintenance grant. Our children followed, attending universities in the 1980s and 90s, still free from tuition fees. Our eldest got a maintenance grant, but the last two had student loans. In 1982 I was seconded by Leicestershire County Council from the school at which I was then teaching onto a full time Masters Degree course in Education at LeicesterUniversity, on full salary with daily travel expenses. This was career and life changing. My readers can largely blame this for my blogs. I wonder how Harold Wilson would view the degradation of our higher education system and the downgrading of the public education function that it once so proudly embodied.


The ‘degradation’ has come slowly but surely. Our eldest graduated from a long established northern university in 1994 with a first in Chemistry. I will always remember the Vice Chancellor’s stirring address at the degree congregation. The broad subject of this was ‘public obligation’ and the duty of graduates to acknowledge society’s investment with right conduct and public service wherever possible.

Now move forward to 2001 and our youngest’s engineering degree congregation at another long established northern university. The Vice Chancellor’s address could not have been more different. This was a bragging, self-congratulatory, PR spin, endorsing the ‘world class entrepreneurial status’ of the university under his management.

It was then that I realised that higher education had been privatised. In terms of public service, it has gone downhill ever since as Blair’s reforms took their intended course and the inevitable consequences have unfolded. This model of Vice Chancellor has since been further developed along with levels of remuneration their predecessors would have neither dreamed off nor approved.

What then are the consequences, apart from thousands of impoverished graduates with no hope of obtaining graduate employment or paying off their debts? There is certainly the loss of Local Authority controlled Further Education colleges, which had many positive roles of which supporting local industry apprenticeships and a wide variety of vocational qualifications was just one. In the November 2017 Budget the Conservative Chancellor tried vainly to put a positive spin on the current dire independent UK economic forecasts (even without the impending Brexit catastrophe), blaming this on historic low productivity, without acknowledging the downgrading of our publicly financed and locally accountable FE College system and its transformation away from public education .

FE Colleges did so such a lot. There was adult education on a massive scale. In the City of Leicester, Charles Keene FE College provided a pre-university course for mature students, many of whom were mothers who had taken their first tentative steps back into education through daytime classes (sometimes alongside school students) at Leicestershire’s 14-18 Community Colleges. Such courses had affordable course fees with discounts and exemptions for the unwaged and those in receipt of benefits.

In a welcome recent article, Fiona Millar appears at last to have accepted the necessity for the rebirth of Local Education Authorities if Labour’s National Education Service is to be realised.


However, nothing yet very radical from Labour on Higher Education Reform, where the abolition of tuition fees will not be achievable, without significant structural change and the rebirth of an extensive, comprehensive, locally accountable FE College sector. This needs to be built into the economic devolution plans of the ‘Midlands Engine’, ‘Northern Powerhouse’ etc., but not forgetting the needs of swathes of rural and smaller urban communities throughout the UK.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


agov's picture
Tue, 28/11/2017 - 09:14

"money, tuition fees and student loans, which helped bring out the youth vote for Labour in the June 2017 General Election"

Yes, but if da yoof were not so dumb and reliant on Facebook etc for their reality they would have long understood that the only thing they, in common with all such voters as Labour may still retain, can expect is double-talk and betrayal -

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 28/11/2017 - 12:29

agov - from the same article, this is what Shadow Ed Sec Angela Rayner said:

'A cynic might say that they're wilfully misrepresenting my party's policies. We have never said that we would simply write off all existing debt' and  'I've said once, and I will say it again, we have no plans to write off existing student debt and we never promised to do so.'

Whether anyone believes that or not depends on which political tribe readers support.  The same is true of what the Conservatives claim - their supporters will believe them while their opposers won't.  And some on both sides will continue to trade insults at each other - inevitable I suppose.  But when I saw a young woman at the Labour conference ask delegates whether they could be friends with a Tory, my heart sank.  For goodness sake - if you can't be friends with someone with opposing views then how on earth can you expect to persuade them? Such an attitude is divisive, counterproductive and dangerous if taken to extremes.  


Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 29/11/2017 - 12:16

Hello again agov - I see you have returned to your usual theme of knocking the Labour Party, while offering no alternative. Labour NEVER promised to write off existing student debt. That was only ever a lying Conservative knocking smear.

However, as I imply in my article, the current excellent existing policy of abolishing all future higher education fees, which is rightly hugely popular with young people, has a number of logistical challenges to integrating its school, further and higher education policies within its (also excellent) National Education Policy. As I imply, there are the related issues of the devolution of economic powers needed to facilitate Labour's regional industrial investment policies. These latter are essential to address the poor productivity that Conservative policies of austerity have created.

This will need radical new thinking in relation to further and higher education that will demand a clearer view of where universities, regulated and funded by central government, should fit within a mix of other further and higher education institutions regulated and funded by devolved regional economic authorities that need also to be 'super' Local Education Authorities.

In my view many/most of the new universities created in Blair's drive for 50 percent graduates should become locally controlled, as FE colleges and polytechnics once were. All three groups need to be effectively 're-nationalised/ re-regionalised'.

Universities should always be mainly about intellectual excellence. This does not rule out vocational degrees that include engineering and medicine, where intellectual excellence has always been an essential component of the applied science that is taught. My first degree was in metallurgy at Aston University, which in 1966 was still Gosta Green College of Advanced Technology (The University of Aston Designate). Metallurgy, like other applied sciences, certainly supported the vocational fundamentals of the 'metal bashing' industries that were then the foundation of the UK economy, but also the cutting edge science in materials technology that later underpinned development in the aerospace industries. In recognition of this we were required to undertake 'General Studies' throughout the course. We studied, 'The Life of Galileo' by Bertholt Brecht and, amongst many other things, discussed the controversies surrounding the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. This was as it should be, but is not now necessarily taking place in the new universities.

This is not to argue that the teaching of vocational trades and skills, should not also develop the intellect, as happens in other European countries where the general population is clearly better educated than is revealed by endless Vox Pop media interviews on the subject of Brexit. In Part 3 of 'Learning Matters' I write as follows.

"What about technology and the arts? Are these subjects academic or vocational? Are we to assume that our most academically able pupils should be directed away from cooking, dance, drama and art, or that less academic pupils don’t need to study and understand history, geography, literature, science and a foreign language? How should a potential ‘Jamie Oliver’ be directed at 14 years old? The task of the education system should be to raise educational outcomes for all, so producing a better educated and more intelligent population at every level. What is wrong with having well educated plumbers, actors, motor mechanics, shop assistants, footballers, tennis players, care workers etc. as well as more broadly educated teachers, doctors, lawyers and engineers?"

agov's picture
Wed, 29/11/2017 - 12:28

No one would believe it Janet. It was perfectly clear at the time what was ; what it was repeatedly accepted to mean in the press and by other so-called-Labour spokespersonages (- ) ; and what the twitter generation obviously accepted it meant. It was almost as clear as the so-called-Labour Manifesto commitment that it accepted the Referendum result that it has since sneakily opposed on all the days when it isn't pretending to accept it. And not in any way close to the Remoaner lie that there was a commitment to spend whatever it was on the NHS.
You seem to be remarkably out of touch with contemporary politics, especially of the evermore ridiculous Left if you think your anecdote is some sort of extreme example. Try this for something altogether more symptomatic of where we are -

These days so-called-Labour are utterly shameless.

agov's picture
Wed, 29/11/2017 - 12:42

"you have returned to your usual theme of knocking the Labour Party"

Not sure I particularly or ever refer to Labour except on a very few of the many occasions when you act as its on-site propagandist.

"Labour NEVER promised to write off existing student debt"

Not true. That would be why the betrayal attracted so much attention on You Tube - even modern students can remember some things, as the Liberals found out.

I'll take notice of Labour proposals when it actually does any better in elections than Gordon Brown when he lost. Though I notice the always unintentionally humorous Chuka Umunna seems to be promoting a return to George Brown and the Department of Economic Affairs (that went so well the first time).

"poor productivity"

Harold Wilson was talking about that in the 60s. Nothing has much changed since then. It is absurd to blame the entire thing on the current government though obviously the slash and burn policies of the Remainiac George Osborne would not have helped.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 29/11/2017 - 13:23

agov - I never claimed the anecdote was 'extreme'.  I thought is was silly, immature and distasteful, yes, but a long, long way short of the nasty abuse that pours forth on social media from both left and right towards those they disagree with.   Mysogynist, racist, sexist remarks aren't confined to one party.

Re the 'Remoaner lie that there was a commitment to spend whatever it was on the NHS.'   Then what was Boris defending when he upheld a message emblazoned on the side of a huge red bus?   And why did UKSA rule that Boris was guilty of 'a clear misuse of official statistics'?   Is UKSA just lying, peddling false news?  Was the bus a photoshopped image designed to discredit Johnson and Gove?  Have I imagined it all because I'm 'remarkably out of touch'?


agov's picture
Thu, 30/11/2017 - 16:13

An element of this thread was specifically about Labour so I'm pleased that we agree that there is nothing unusual about members of what now passes for Labour ( - the new anti-Jew party: how Abba Eban must be turning in his grave) casually trotting out the type of remark you cite.
Your link makes an entirely misleading conflation of two different things. The ridiculous letter from Norgrove was in response to Johnson's Telegraph article, not the side of a bus. Johnson said in his article that Britain would take back control of £350m per week. The letter was specifically concerned with the difference between gross and net amounts as the side of a bus (which the letter was not about) had used the word 'send'. Obviously that is not right as the money is netted off before it is sent. Oh wait, here's the EU threatening not to refund that rebate that apparently we don't send it in the first place -

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 30/11/2017 - 17:01

agov - You are ranting again. First, in 50 years of membership of the Labour Party I have never personally come across any anti-Semitism: plenty of anti-Zionism, yes, but that is a different thing entirely.

I am surprised you read the drivel on the Guido Fawkes website: - you will be quoting Donald Trump next.

As for the Telegraph rubbish about the EU rebate, just more anti-EU nonsense of the 'straight bananas' variety. As for Brexit, like Janet, I cannot recall anything from the Leave side in the referendum that showed the slightest factual resemblance to the real issues and problems involved in the UK withdrawal from the EU, that are now coming home to roost. The EU border in Ireland is a classic case in point - never a mention by either side in the referendum campaign, yet so long as the Brexiteers insist on taking the UK out of the Customs Union (never proposed by the Leave side in the referendum) then there is clearly no alternative to a hard border, the breaking of the Good Friday agreement and the destruction of the Irish economy along with that of the UK. No wonder the Irish are making an issue of it.

What is your solution for the border [problem?

As a regular commentator on educational matters, have you no views on Labour's proposed National Education Service?

agov's picture
Fri, 01/12/2017 - 10:45

So again more or less fact free, as so often when you stray from your subject of education into Labour support mode.

Good to know that Cumbria remains unaware of the real state of contemporary Labour. Here is an extremely mild alternative view -

I read many things - including your excellent book - not just Branch minutes from the local CLP.

Changing the subject may qualify you for a job at the disgraced UKSA but does not affect the facts.

The reality is that people on all sides during the referendum said many things including that leaving the EU meant leaving the customs union and the single market. If you agree with Mandelson (godfather of Labour's likely ceasing to be a serious party) - - then perhaps you should blame your party leadership for letting themselves be coerced into opposing things many believe they actually agree with.

The Irish current position seems to be that to get through the EU's entirely bogus division of talks into Stage 1 to Stage 2 the UK must agree now to whatever terms the EU nightmare will impose in the future during Stage 2; only success in Stage 2 can prevent a 'hard' border; therefore UK failure to do the impossible by now agreeing anything the EU will then want will mean Ireland vetoing moving to Stage 2; thereby ensuring the 'hard' border Ireland doesn't want. Much as I like the Irish and fully supportive as I was of Britain, not the EU, supporting Ireland in the aftermath of the financial crash, my concern is more with England than Ireland (- I know modern Labour is only concerned about every country except England). I do though recall that the Irish themselves (much like the English) were cheated out of a vote on the EU constitution as the misruling class knew it would be rejected; and that when they were allowed to vote on it (after it had been renamed) they rejected it; then (after a few commas were moved around in it) they were browbeaten into accepting it. If the democracy hating EU and its supporters did not despise and betray their own peoples so much things would never have become so entangled. Blame yourself for supporting all this. As it happens I have already told you my assessment. Ireland only joined the EU (or Common Market as it was so innocently called then) because the UK did. There is an obvious logic.

I might have views on Labour's NES if I could be bothered to spend time on things that are as far away from implementation as is the Remoaner hope that the British in general can be intimidated as were the Irish, the Greeks, the French, and the Dutch (- did I miss anyone?).

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 01/12/2017 - 11:32

I happen to agree with Jeremy Corbyn that there are many good reasons for leaving the EU, but these do not include leaving the Customs Union, the EU Single Market and the principle of Free Movement that especially includes the rights of UK citizens to study, live and work anywhere in the EU. The immigration issues that so concerned many poor voters hit by austerity can easily be overcome by proper regulation of the labour market and an end to people trafficking by exploitative scam employers.

You are right that the border issue can only be resolved if the UK retains the free trade benefits of access to the Customs Union and the Single Market. All the government has to do is put these options back on the table and the problem is solved. However there is no way that this Conservative government, hanging on by its fingertips, can do that because of internal divisions and the fragile nature of the disgraceful pact with the DUP. I suspect that May will have to move in that direction in the next few weeks if only because of pressure from the business/industry lobby. Then the government will loose its parliamentary majority, a general election will follow, Labour will win a majority including the regaining of seats across Scotland and Kier Starmer (a clever fellow unlike thicko David Davies) will negotiate an exit deal based on Norway +, and everybody will be happy except the swivel-eyed nutters in the Conservative Party and Donald Trump. Win-win!

agov's picture
Sat, 02/12/2017 - 15:50

'I agree except I don't'

You can align yourself with those seeking to refight the referendum as much as you like. The fact is it happened, we are leaving, that's it.
If the EU has some gee whiz way (presumably some sort of permanent variation of Lichtenstein) to facilitate some limited continued UK participation on this or that bit of EU features it could propose it during its ridiculous Stage 2 phase. The reality is that until two months ago Ireland was praising the British approach to the border. The fact that it is now acting as the EU's puppet indicates that, entirely predictably, the aim of the self-serving punk politicians of the EU is the on-going supremacy of its democracy destroying empire at any cost.

There may be a limited range of legal opinions about what controls a member state may impose on free movement but it is the ECJ that rules on legal issues for the EU and it has no difficulty in twisting things to its liking (- the four freedoms themselves were effectively only an incidental and relatively innocuous part of a trade agreement until the ECJ transformed them into the basic building blocks of a new state - aka the German Empire Mark 4) and its rulings are so curiously coincidentally benevolent to German interests. Some of these hysterical Remoaners seem to think no-one had ever left British shores before the UK joined the Common Market. There is still plenty of time for those desperate to remain within the empire to go and live almost anywhere on the obedient continent - I'm sure that, at worst, they could just buy an Italian (i.e. EU) passport.

Whatever happens Ireland will however have to get ready for a very different status. During the Referendum one of the vast number of Remoaner lies was that any suggestion of the EU developing its own army etc. was entirely fictional (even though it had already been planned). The EU has itself now confirmed that it will be happening as soon as possible and even more quickly as the UK will not be a member. Without the UK to object to these military developments, Ireland will certainly, step by duplicitous EU step, be compelled to abandon its faux status of neutrality (or relying on NATO without paying for it, as it might otherwise be called) and fully participate in EU military operations. So if it wishes to harm its economy by remaining within the EU, it can say goodbye to its nice guy, let's all be friends, image.

Would a pact with the DUP have been 'disgraceful' in 2010 - - or just typical hypocrisy from 'modern' Labour Party members?

Not entirely sure why you suppose, even if it happened, that a minority government has to immediately hold an election. Minority governments have occurred before and can certainly last a considerable period even without the Fixed-Term Parliament Act. Nor do I know why you would assume Corbyn would win (albeit that it may be a current propaganda aim of the fake news MSM). Just because last time the Conservatives fought the worst election campaign ever, and everyone thought they would win anyway, and obviously many people voted Labour thinking it made no difference, doesn't mean the same would happen again. I see that Corbyn excelled himself with his supporters at his GQ interview -
- I won't quote previous comments from John Lydon and Noel Gallagher but note that the likes of them may have more to do with Twitterati yoof when the latter, especially after the betrayal, actually learn anything about the humourless Corbynistas. Or are you expecting an even bigger surge in the not-in-any-way-suspicious Labour block postal vote?

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.