I don’t know if any of you have been following the debate lately about higher education reform, but it is an issue that I am particularly interested in. For the un-initiated, the main reforms involve allowing school leavers who do not get the marks to enter University to pay their way into a course. I am interested in this issue not only as someone who has benefited from accessible education, but I am also opposed to the reforms because it is unfair. Plain and simple. Let me tell you why.
The higher education system in America is a two tiered system, similar to the one proposed by the Liberal government. Wealthy children with not-so-great marks get into Harvard, Princeton, etc, and the rest either struggle their way through the tens of thousands of dollars in tuition fees, or take athletic scholarships to subsidise their education. Then, you have the countless young people who try to get an education by joining the military, like that poor, poor “Shock and Awe” poster-girl, Jessica Lynch.
Like many other young working class (and increasingly, middle class) Americans, Jessica Lynch joined the military because she wanted a college degree, so that she could eventually become a teacher. Now, whether you agree with war or not, whether you believe the exaggerated stories of her ‘rescue’ or not, or even whether you agree with military service for our young or not — one thing remains abundantly clear. There are kids in America that are prepared to risk permanent disfigurement and even death so that they can receive an education. Surely, that can’t be right. Surely, if you want an education in America you can have one? Right? Right…?
Now, let us take a look at the person that sent Jessica Lynch and thousands of other teenagers to the war in Iraq. The walking answer to the question “what is wrong with the United States?” — George W. Bush.
Did you know that George Junior has a degree in History from Yale? Did you know that he also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School? Pretty amazing feats for a man that referred to the “Chinesians”. I guess I am amazed, primarily because I always thought that Universities like Harvard and Yale had some degree of academic integrity — where it most certainly helped to be rich, but it wasn’t the overriding factor in admissions.
I always thought that Harvard required a particularly high standard for entry, including a resume of real world experience, a strong grade-point average, and a ‘reputable’ degree.
But, alas, I have been proven wrong, because it seems that baby George didn’t need it because 1) his daddy was Chairman of the Republican National Committee and 2) They had shit loads of money. Sure, he had a degree from a reputable University…but honestly, do we *really* believe he has studied History? Maybe he’s confusing an American History unit for a History degree… alas…back to my point.
We don’t know Jessica Lynch’s academic history — for all we know she could have been a bare-pass student. She could also be very bright. However, even if she is only average, what differentiates one bear-pass student like Lynch, from another like George W Bush?
And it is wrong.
There is something inherently unfair about a stupid man with a lot of money, coasting his way through life, having access to all the “best” schools, and others who are not necessarily outstanding, but also not rich, being sent off to war so that they can receive an education.
And this, my friends, brings to my point about user-pays in higher education reforms in Australia. If you allow universities to charge upfront fees to people who cannot get in on their own merits, you take one step closer towards a two-tiered education system. On one hand, you have students who work hard to get a 65%+ average to get into University. They will graduate with massive amounts of debt and get squeezed out of the more expensive courses, and as a result, will never escape the working class trap. Then, you’ll have kids who have never worked an honest day in their lives — coasting into an LLB with a 60% average and a fistful of dollars, who will graduate into easy jobs with friends-of-friends, and maintain their hold on society by forming the elite.
And then, before you know it, we’ll no longer be saying “don’t let it go the way of America”, because by then we’ll already be there. And by then, we’ll be sending our working class kids to fight in wars, getting themselves maimed and killed in order to get an education.
Higher education “reform” is nothing but another attempt by John Howard to turn us into the 51st state of America. Its times like this I feel an awful lot like a Canadian.