is one of the ideas being put forward as both a Budget 2014 and ideological measure. Do I agree?
I have always been of the opinion that it is the intelligent people who should go to university - the most able people of all. I suppose that sounds elitist.
But what is a university for? There seems to be an opinion here that universities are for everyone. That everyone should aim to enter university.
I think that's wrong and the reason I think it is wrong is because it wrongly devalues the many other skills we depend on to keep society functioning. Where would we be without cleaners, bus drivers, shop assistants, assembly line workers, shearers, farm hands, fruit pickers and so on?
Do plumbers need a degree - or the people who drive the council garbage compacters? Of course they don't.
Universities should be places of intellectual rigour. Standards should be high. Those who work in them and those who attend them should be able to focus on learning. Universities should also be places of intellectual creativity, the sort of creativity which results in advances in research.
I think there are places where that occurs and courses within which such things occur. That's good. I also think that many university courses are turning out too many second-class graduates. Some of these students will have worked hard but many will have coasted through their degrees. They will have enjoyed campus life and done an excellent job of judging just how much work they needed to do in order to get a pass degree. If they have shown the occasional spark it will be a 2:1 rather than a 2:2.
The Senior Cat has a degree in English literature and Latin. He did it at a time when even entering university was considered to be an achievement. He had to do his degree part-time while teaching. It was not an uncommon way to do it. As a small child I can remember looking at the lists of strange words stuck on the shaving cabinet mirror. He would learn his Latin vocabulary while shaving.
I have degrees. My brother and one of my sisters also have degrees. I supported myself all the way. My brother and my sister were "bonded" teaching students. They later "upgraded" their teaching diplomas to degrees and then went on to do second degrees- all at their own expense. Around them there were students on government university scholarships.
My niece and nephews all have degrees. By the time they reached university the "Higher Education Contribution Scheme" had started and they would have accrued hefty debts if their parents had not said, "You can have your inheritance now in the sense we will help you through university. In other words, you can work for it but it will help you get a job at the other end." And yes, they are now all gainfully employed and will probably remain so.
Many of their fellow students are much less sure of employment. Some of them have worked hard but the jobs simply are not there. You could say they chose to study the "wrong" things - things that interested them rather than things that might bring about employment.
I don't think there should be a "wrong" subject choice, not if it is something you feel passionate about. I am much more concerned by the increasing numbers of students who feel they must do something they have no interest in simply because it "might" lead to a job at the other end. They are discontented and often anxious. Their university life is not the great intellectual adventure it should be. It is something to be got through with the diminishing hope of a job at the other end.
I really do think we need to rethink what universities are about. We need to say that "technical and further education" (TAFE) courses are equally important and should be valued as such.
I met an engineer recently. He never wanted to be an engineer but was pushed into it by his father who kept telling him it would be a "career". He is now building up a fruit growing business instead. It is not a secure line of work at all. He doesn't yet have a degree in arboriculture or horticulture. He's self taught. I don't doubt he will succeed though because he is passionate about it.
We need university students with intelligence, creativity and passion - and we should provide them with assistance. Their co-payment can come in many forms - not just the financial one.