Graduate skills for sale - to the lowest bidder

The UK government's policy towards universities mirrors a global divergence between highly paid graduates who are given "permission to think" in their jobs, and those leaving university who will end up in low-paid and low-skilled work.

July 19, 2012

This is the view of Phillip Brown, a professor in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University and co-author of The Global Auction.

The book argues that the global expansion in higher education is triggering a Dutch auction among graduates that will drive down wages and conditions, although a minority of graduates will continue to have creative, well-paid work if they are defined as "top talent".

Since the release of the book in January 2011, the government has brought in policies for 2012-13 that will allow English universities unlimited recruitment of students achieving AAB at A level and at the same time has set aside 20,000 places for universities and colleges charging below £7,500 a year.

"What's sad about it is that it confirms this concentration of resources around elite performance," said Professor Brown, speaking last week at one of a series of seminars on higher education policy being hosted by King's College London and the Institute for Public Policy Research.

He argued that there "has to be an alternative politics" to what he called the increasing concentration of resources in higher education.

"That is very worrying because...as soon as you start defining talent, then you create a class of those who are not talented and they get devalued and that will include large numbers of graduates."

He added: "It doesn't matter if they're graduates or not, there's a huge amount of talent that has never seen a university, which we completely and utterly ignore."

The expansion of higher education has shown that the idea that there was a "limited pool of talent" which needed to be funnelled towards universities was "rubbish", Professor Brown said.

"What we've seen...is that large numbers of people are capable of getting a degree and capable of doing most of the jobs that are out there."

david.matthews@tsleducation.com.

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