In an era of tight public finances, should students be entitled to subsidised higher education no matter what they choose to study?

By Mangal Patel. Mangal lives in London, United Kingdom

Subsidised? NO. Make it Free!

“Nonsense!” “Not value for money!” “Other more worthy causes!” “Waste of Taxpayers money!” And a host of other retorts are probably flowing onto irate blogs in response. But hang on. Surely education is a birthright for all no matter what their background or sex and so is the right to do well and prosper.

Countless studies have shown that those with a university degree do better and earn more over their lifetime than those without.

Employers want educated, articulate, analytical and creative employees and they want proof of quality learning. These days, just having an undergraduate degree is a must to even get your CV looked at.

Higher Education provides recognised and accredited qualifications which equip people to perform in the working environment. The growing and learning acquired on the course and outside of it has value. The skills to mix and get on with people of all backgrounds, the need to work individually and within a team alongside the ability to research, create and communicate are all directly transferrable from university to beyond.

Why should the less academic be denied the chance of this recognised and valued qualification? We already have BSc, BA, BEng and so on, so why not BLife whether the latter be for Plumbing, Hairdressing or even Rock climbing? The choice of subject may at first seem strange for inclusion in the definition of the higher education sector but these practical subjects are not only needed for the smooth running of modern society but also for enriching our lives. From a financial perspective, many students of these subjects go on to set up small businesses which in turn lead to greater employment and consequently more tax revenue.

In the global market an educated population is a necessity not a luxury. An educated population is more likely to be innovative, employed and law abiding, so contributing to the wealth, stability and prosperity of the nation. By deploying its acquired knowledge to develop new products & services, grow markets, influence investment and policy, countries with liberal education policies gain competitive advantage.

Restricting funding to highly academic subjects such as sciences, medicine and engineering and ignoring the arts leads to a more stilted, analytical society governed by logic. Logic is not a bad thing. It brings rigour and rationale to analysis and thinking. But logic unaided by creativity is deficient. Some of the greatest advances have been made by taking leaps of imagination and dreaming of the unthinkable.

Humanity is not just science. It is a curious mix of culture, emotions and irrational beliefs that demand satisfaction. Meeting these needs is itself an industry and a growing one at that. Just look at the income generated by music, drama, films, digital games, mobile communications, smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, Internet. They all serve a softer need for communication and human interaction. Science provides the underlying tools but the arts and non academic subjects nourish these more intrinsic needs.

Lack of funding to study subjects of choice at the higher level leads to disengagement with the education system particularly amongst the more disadvantaged members of the community. This does not help with widening participation or with making life better for the many.

Funding and supporting higher education regardless of choice of subject may seem to be heretical at first but it is needed to sustain humanity as a whole.

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