Public vs Private Education

I’ve been watching the 7-up series. I’m up to 28-up so far. The premise of the original, supposed to be one-off 7-up was comparing 14 7 year olds, mostly from the extremes (exclusive private school, working class east end school) of British society, and interviewing them to show how stratified people’s lives were by the class they started in.

Since then, Michael Apted (a researcher on the original program) has gone back to them every seven years to see whether they turned out the way you would expect from the original interviews.

Given the original premise of the program, educational choices is a huge issue that gets explored in the interviews every time. The most sensible of the upperclass private school boys, Andrew, was asked what he thought of private schools at age 28. I can’t quote verbatim, but he said something like,

“I think there are two choices. Let people do what they want with their money, and if that means buying their children the best education money can buy, then so be it – it’s their money, they should be entitled to spend it. Or else, acknowledge that having those children in the state system would improve the system for everyone, because their parents would be the ones agitating to improve not just the school their children happened to be at, but the school system, and it would improve the system as a whole. And make it impossible to send your children to anywhere but the state system. And that’s impossible, so we are stuck with the first option”.

I’ve blogged about this issue for schools before, but it struck me that Andrew’s second option, that he dismissed as impossible, is actually how Australian universities work. There isn’t really a private system to speak of (although it exists, it’s not especially prestigious) so everyone has to go to the state universities. They also have to pay fees, some of them quite large ones, if they don’t get into the main entry for their courses, but there isn’t really a choice to buy a “better” education with more money, as there is in the primary and secondary system.

It doesn’t seem to have helped the university system particularly to have all those rich students (and their parents) involved in it. From what I remember at university, the private school types were much less likely to bother about how good an education they were getting, and much more likely to be propping up the university bar.

From what I read, the university education you get really is worse than it was 20 years ago (when I got one of the last free university educations in this country). Or maybe it would be much worse off still if there was a parallel private system that creamed off the richest students.