S02E001 - The graduate without a future

A still from Dethklok's 'Go Forth and Die' music video

An edition of the Novara radio show looking at the theme of the ‘graduate without a future’ with James Butler @piercepenniless and Aaron Peters @aaronjohnpeters. While broad-ranging the parameters of the discussion will include this piece by Paul Mason, economics editor of BBC Newsnight, and this response by Butler.

What does the future look like? Is there a future for the university and will it change? Has it changed? What is the relationship between education and the social democratic compromise now in free fall which permitted unprecedented numbers of people access to university and other social goods, and, the very category of the future itself? Will new political subjects, such as the graduate without a future, become political agents? 
In conclusion, to quote Butler, “now we know there’s no future, what are we going to do about it?”

Franco “Bifo” Berardi, After the Future (2011)

Novara - a weekly show on Resonance FM discussing political theory, practice and aesthetics. Discussions and interventions will be with workers, theorists, students and activists. Hosted by Aaron Peters.

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wojtek
Jul 4 2012 16:22

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Joseph Kay
Jul 4 2012 17:36
Quote:
What is the relationship between education and the social democratic compromise now in free fall which permitted unprecedented numbers of people access to university and other social goods

This is the curious thing; under what's typically periodised as social democracy (1945-76/9), university education was for an elite. It was only under neoliberalism from the 1990s that university access expanded from 10-15% of the population to 45% or so. But at the same time, that's meant transforming and subsuming universities along instrumental lines (modularising courses, fixed term contracts replacing tenure, casualisation/outsourcing of support staff, pervasive assessment through the RAE/REF etc). So imho there never was a social democratic paradise of university education for all - there was high quality education for an elite funded with grants, alongside which there is now much broader access to something increasingly resembling training in 'transferable skills' funded with debt.

Anyway, I'll need to listen to this, James Butler's usually pretty astute on stuff.

wojtek
Jul 4 2012 18:47

Excellent point JK, I believe it's followed a similar trajectory in the US as well.

Quote:
Nathan Explosion growled:
Dream of your own murder/ Strangled by the IVY/ Drown in student loans/ Better off just dying

The Ones We've Lost: The Student Loan Debt Suicides

cry

bastarx
Jul 4 2012 20:36
Joseph Kay wrote:
Quote:
What is the relationship between education and the social democratic compromise now in free fall which permitted unprecedented numbers of people access to university and other social goods

This is the curious thing; under what's typically periodised as social democracy (1945-76/9), university education was for an elite. It was only under neoliberalism from the 1990s that university access expanded from 10-15% of the population to 45% or so. But at the same time, that's meant transforming and subsuming universities along instrumental lines (modularising courses, fixed term contracts replacing tenure, casualisation/outsourcing of support staff, pervasive assessment through the RAE/REF etc). So imho there never was a social democratic paradise of university education for all - there was high quality education for an elite funded with grants, alongside which there is now much broader access to something increasingly resembling training in 'transferable skills' funded with debt.

Anyway, I'll need to listen to this, James Butler's usually pretty astute on stuff.

Disagree, a whole bunch of big new universities were built in Australia in the 60s, pretty sure it was the same elsewhere.

Joseph Kay
Jul 4 2012 20:45
Nina Power wrote:
Lionel Robbins was no socialist, and his report was, of course, written in an era before the mass expansion of higher education (participation doubled from 15% in 1988 to over 30% in 1992)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/03/absurd-student-debt-has-ended-inclusion

I think the 60s university building (which happened here too) took it from something like 5% to 15%, though I don't have the stats to hand. And I think university admissions peaked at around 45% here a few years ago.

Joseph Kay
Jul 4 2012 21:12

the other thing that's happening is that many universities are gearing up for growth in student numbers even as UK applications fall. The difference seems to be based on increasingly catering to international students (especially non-EU students, whose fees are uncapped). So it looks like (some) universities might be returning to the older elite status, only this time catering to the global elite (foreign students pay up to £21,000 a year for access/english courses, then pay uncapped tuition fees for three years at university, so the kids of the Chinese, Indian, Brazilian elites are real cash cows).

Already after financial services, education is the second largest contributor to Britain's net balance of payments and the eighth largest export industry:

House of Commons Select Committee wrote:
The international activities of universities contribute around £5.3 billion to the UK economy. This includes the fees that are paid directly to universities from international students, as well as the additional spending from students and families which benefits the economy. In addition, it is estimated that international students generate around £3.26 billion knock–on output for the UK economy. 112 The potential exists to double the income from this source over the next 5–10 years, significantly improving the UK's overall balance of trade. Universities have made plans to increase their numbers of international students over the five-year period from 2008–09 to 2012–13 (the latest years for which plans are available). These plans indicate a projected increase in full-time international students of around 38,000, or 23% over this period. Income from international students is projected to increase by £661 million over this period, an increase of around 37%.

At the other end, there looks like cheaper, streamlined professional degrees are going to be increasingly provided by private universities. So it looks like there's a diversification of the higher education sector ranging from production lines in glorified certificates in transferable skills at one end through to Oxbridge at the other, via export-oriented universities increasingly out of reach of many (although the fees situation is complicated; you could well actually pay back less under the higher fees, but there's uncertainty as to whether the government's going to sell off the debt to private collectors and/or change the terms, e.g. upping the interest rate or changing the repayment requirements).

orkhis
Jul 5 2012 07:40

I like Mason, but his singular focus on students and relatively privileged student radicals is irritating. 

Mason doesn't say a whole lot about the huge numbers of workers without a university degree certificate or history of Facebook campaigns/critique of the 'Occupy Movement'.

Whilst there are clearly more young graduates than there have ever been,  I'm not sure I share Mason's faith in their revolutionary potential. Maybe I'm just alone in finding many of their earnest blogs and marches exclusive and cliquey.

In all honesty, what have students and activists with their tents and twitter accounts actually achieved? In London, the biggest challenges to capital have come from the electricians in the BESNA dispute and the cleaners in their fight for a living wage. In Egypt the battle that counts is surely that being waged in the factories, docks and other workplaces. 

Sure, lots of unemployed graduates creates some big problems for the state. I just don't see the current response from these groups as that encouraging. 

the button
Jul 5 2012 08:57

I went to an 'elite' university in the late 80s (back in the olden days when you got all your fees paid plus a full maintenance grant plus housing benefit plus dole during the summer holidays -- great days tongue ). So I realise I'm not exactly the demographic for being a graduate without a future.

However, one of the things that struck me at the time was that most of my fellow students (David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, etc grin ) arrived at the university with a ready-made network from school and other social circles that they all moved in. Whereas I was the only kid from my school there.

Why is this relevant? Well, it might not be. But maybe the "graduate without a future" is the truth of university education. Maybe going to university has *never* conferred special privileges and a golden future in and of itself. Maybe going to university was a marker of privilege rather than a privilege in itself (a symptom rather than the cause of better life outcomes, if you like). So if you broaden access to university education, what you're doing is increasing the numbers who go, who aren't already within the charmed circle who are going to do well for themselves.

Incidentally, my first job after graduating was as a casual admin assistant in the civil service, earning about £6-7k a year. Thank god for mad cow disease, otherwise I'd probably still be signing on grin .

Joseph Kay
Jul 5 2012 09:15
the button wrote:
Why is this relevant? Well, it might not be. But maybe the "graduate without a future" is the truth of university education. Maybe going to university has *never* conferred special privileges and a golden future in and of itself. Maybe going to university was a marker of privilege rather than a privilege in itself (a symptom rather than the cause of better life outcomes, if you like). So if you broaden access to university education, what you're doing is increasing the numbers who go, who aren't already within the charmed circle who are going to do well for themselves.

I think this is pretty important. I went back to uni a couple of years ago to do a postgrad course, and funnily enough the people with family/social connections walked into high-up jobs (or internships, which they could afford to do for a couple of years as a bridge to those jobs), while those without signed on and/or went back to permatemping. The degree just makes the nepotism look legit (and of course even if it was 100% 'meritocratic', there's still far less positions like that available than there are graduates so the problem wouldn't go away if a few proles landed UN jobs).

I think this is probably what the current neoliberal university reforms are about. Complaints about creating a two-tier system miss the fact one already exists (i.e. class society). So there's likely to be a diversification of degrees from AC Grayling, Dawkins and co super-celebrity top dollar courses to streamlined 2 year degree equivalent professional qualifications for a knock-down rate. I've never applied for a job where the subject of my degree mattered (only the grade), so outside things like engineering and medicine, degrees are already basically a glorified numeracy/literacy/'communication and transferable skills' certificate.* The reforms just make that more explicit (and increase the debt required to get one).

* Which still probably gives you access to jobs people without one can't get, e.g. entry-level casual admin increasingly requires a degree, whereas casual cleaning doesn't.

Shorty
Jul 5 2012 11:42
Joseph Kay wrote:
Anyway, I'll need to listen to this, James Butler's usually pretty astute on stuff.

Also sexy as hell to boot. wink

Caiman del Barrio
Jul 5 2012 13:04
orkhis wrote:
I like Mason, but his singular focus on students and relatively privileged student radicals is irritating. 

Mason doesn't say a whole lot about the huge numbers of workers without a university degree certificate or history of Facebook campaigns/critique of the 'Occupy Movement'.

Whilst there are clearly more young graduates than there have ever been,  I'm not sure I share Mason's faith in their revolutionary potential. Maybe I'm just alone in finding many of their earnest blogs and marches exclusive and cliquey.

In all honesty, what have students and activists with their tents and twitter accounts actually achieved? In London, the biggest challenges to capital have come from the electricians in the BESNA dispute and the cleaners in their fight for a living wage. In Egypt the battle that counts is surely that being waged in the factories, docks and other workplaces. 

Sure, lots of unemployed graduates creates some big problems for the state. I just don't see the current response from these groups as that encouraging. 

Excellent post.

I worry that for Mason, the whole GWAF thing has almost become like a mantra. Nina Power's article was also pretty weak IMO. Both of them seemed to be bending backwards to cater for an imagined liberal left 'guardianista' audience (whereas actually the comments below will follow political affiliation: radicals popping up to '+1' and conservatives/trolls making disingenuous snipes).

I also thoguht it was disappointing that Novara consequently focused on 'student'/young people issue. I worry that there's a tendency to see the current austerity offensive as focused on young people. I mean, I felt this pretty strongly when I was unemployed during the student movt and getting started on by drunks for 'looking like a student' (honest!), but there are plenty of well-networked, privileged young people who are making a mint, even in the current climate. Gentrification is predominantly being carried out by the under-40s after all.

the button
Jul 5 2012 13:16

This whole discussion is much better if you pronounce GWAF as "giwaffe" like I just did in my head.

wojtek
Jul 5 2012 15:27
wojtek
Sep 7 2012 00:46

I've the biggest braincrush on Pierce Penniless ever!