Back to the Future?

 In Comment

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Young People and Education

“Giving education to the poor … would be prejudicial to their morals and happiness.  It would teach them to despise their lot in life, instead of making them good servants … in laborious employment”.

Written in 1907, a mere 102 years ago.  Probably not the kind of individual who would be welcome as a member of the then growing Independent Labour Party or the well established Fabian Society.  We have moved on since then, but we have not solved the education problem (will we ever?).

Education, Education, Education

The Butler Education Act of 1944 moved us on a long way in the right direction but one of three of the proposals, the technical colleges, never really took off and we were basically left with grammar schools and secondary moderns, with the ever present charity based public schools.

Then came what was nearly the unmitigated disaster of the comprehensive system – established, like all failed educational reforms, with the best of motives but its product can hardly be said to have been an unqualified success.

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A degree of success

Why all of this? Because until relatively recently it was the object of our government to ensure that schools put 50% of their pupils into university. There were universities, new courses and lots and lots of people with degrees.

Now it all seems to be changing again and this is where it affects the legal profession. We still have all the new universities with all the new courses but we now have something called fees. These have to be paid and the amount of them is increasing.

This can only have one effect, namely that there will be a lot of white elephant universities very shortly with no one to fill them. The fact remains that education that has to be paid for is neither prized as much as it should be nor, but more importantly, is it affordable by many people. If the result of an increasing level of university fees is that only the wealthy will be able to afford to go to university, then we will have come full circle to where we were in 1907.

The wrong sort of student?

If inability to pay fees means that fewer people go to university, and they are only from the moneyed classes, then the product of this will be that law colleges will be populated only by the sons or daughters of the wealthy, or the relatively wealthy, and therefore so, too, will the profession.

Put another way, if the country cannot afford tertiary education to be free at the point of delivery then people will make a choice as to whether they want to pay for it. Some will have the choice forced upon them and others will decide that there are better ways of spending their money. So the terrifying prospect is of universities populated only by the wealthy and not necessarily the intelligent wealthy.


Is the result of the whole of the alleged progress of the twentieth century to be a return journey to the nineteenth century when solicitors firms were effectively small family businesses passed on from father to son and where strangers bought goodwill for the privilege of earning their own living? Are we heading backwards at a great rate of knots?

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