Communist price-fixing cartel
In 1988, I came to Manchester to listen to music, watch City and United on alternate weeks and study the theory of Management Science at UMIST. In that order. Back then, the relationship between lecturers and students was generally one of ignoring each other in an environment of academic and intellectual snobbery. However, it didn't have a material impact on me because the education I was receiving was delivered 'free at source'.
In 2021, whilst the lecturer-student relationship doesn't seem to have changed much, the financial situation is very different. Today's students, many of whom come from low and average income households, are now 'customers' to the tune of £9,250 a year, in the best example of a communist-style price-fixing cartel to be found anywhere in the world. Despite this, students are still regarded as a mere inconvenience to lecturers busy writing research papers and who still operate as though 'Sunny Jim Callaghan' is Prime Minister.
The very idea that all students pay the same tuition fees is absurd, given all courses vary in relation to quality, contact time, location and so on. But for some reason, this is just accepted as the norm.
The average student debt at the end of a three year course is around £40,000. This means our young adults are likely to start their working lives with a risk-averse attitude towards money, which is damaging to any economy.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, tertiary education is arguably the most interesting business sector in the UK right now, as it's moving quickly from a face to face lecturer-student delivery model to a live or recorded online interface that can be delivered from anywhere in the world.
Apology and goodwill gesture?
This rapid change has potentially put Manchester's lecturing jobs on the line, as the 'Open University model of education' becomes mainstream - and many students and their parents, who've seen this debacle at first hand whilst supporting it financially, are starting to wake up to the fact they're being 'had'.
The imminent threat is that a superior model of education could be supplied from the city of Mumbai, or anywhere else for that matter, at a fraction of the cost being shelled out here in the UK.
Given the way they've been treated by a 95% Labour Party-run Manchester City Council, with no apology or pressure on the universities for a refund due anytime soon, the 100,000-strong Manchester student vote is surely up for grabs. Thousands of young adults embarking on their independent lives were enticed into our city in September 2020 under false pretences - and promptly locked up in what amounted to juvenile detention centres, having committed no crime. What isn't being reported here is the mental health crisis within our young adult population, with the majority left to fend for themselves in dark times. The Labour MP, Mr Jeff smith, who was elected by the student vote, appears to have simply gone missing.
Not one member of the Labour Party in Manchester has condemned this situation, as to do so would be a direct attack on the unionised education sector that goes a long way towards funding them. I'd argue that, in purely election-voting terms, they've backed the wrong horse by protecting the lecturers and universities. Because if I were a student in Manchester right now, I'd turn my back on the Labour Party if only as a protest vote. As it stands, the university sector has been financially bankrupt for years but Covid-19 has found it to be morally bankrupt, too.
Andy Burnham has now missed his opportunity to apologise to the young adults who are paying guests in our city, who've been accused of not taking Covid-19 seriously, and who've been victimised under a blame culture. When it comes to putting pressure on the universities to offer a generous rebate as a goodwill gesture for not delivering what the customer paid for in good faith, Andy Burnham is nowhere to be seen. For some reason, he thinks it's the government's job to refund students - even though the universities are now business organisations that were privatised by Tony Blair's Labour government, in which he had collective responsibility as minister for identity cards. The conversation about the threat to the institutions so vital to our city from a superior online teaching model hasn't even started yet.
A full review on how tertiary education is provided as part of our city's 'brand' needs to be undertaken, with the focus on supplying value for money for all students who are long-term guests in our city, and defending the jobs of those who work in the sector. There needs to be a move away from the culture of compliance and conformity in what's currently on offer, towards a degree structure that applies critical, analytical thinking that's creative, curious and collaborative, and allows for the cross-pollination of ideas.
This sector, when dealt with by business minds that understand customer care, has the power to be our city's finest asset and job generator. It's essential that, when students finish their time at university, they think fondly of their experience in Manchester and consider it to have been the best possible investment in their development, rather than leaving with the notion they've been ripped off.