Friday 10 December 2010

Student Loans, 1906

This article, as ever, is full of astonishing parallels with the current debate (although I suppose we must concede that debate is over) and astonishing differences. [nb. Naturally, women do not feature in 1906]. The author decries entrance exams and scholarships ("Superior mental gifts are an advantage, not a merit giving claim to extra privileges") and supports - you guessed it - student loans (albeit split between parent's income and students' future income). Just when you think, however, that the article is a patrician, technocratic view of higher education, you get the amazing final paragraph ... the late Victorians/Edwardians may have been ruthless elitists, but at least they were cultured elitists, and I rather respect them for that.


CONCURRENTLY with the determination to put our national elementary education upon a stable and rational basis has come the resolve not only to deal generously and thoroughly with secondary general and technical education, but also to give ample national assistance to advanced technological training. The difference between "technical " and "technological " training—a difference of definition of the accepted meanings of two words—is now agreed to be that the former refers to such training in applied arts and handicrafts as promotes the practical efficiency of artisans and other workers in the various industries, while the latter supplies the full scientific knowledge and skill required in those who have in their hands the management of the works where these industries are carried on, the guidance of such industrial operations onwards towards improved detail methods, and the investigations needed to invent, test, and develop new industrial processes. The difference is similar to that between the various grades of the clerical staff in a purely trading business and the commercial financiers who must manage such business ; and similar to that between those who do the manipulative routine work in medicine and in law and the full-blown medical and legal professionals. "Technological" simply means "professional" as applied to scientific industries, and the superior social standing of "professionals" in law, medicine, and divinity over those in manufacturing industry is now non-existent, or is fast disappearing.
     With regard to the three kinds of education and training, namely (a) general elementary and secondary, (b) technical, and (c) technological and professional, there are four fundamental facts which are sufficiently obvious to allow of them being taken as universally accepted axioms. The first is that good general education is so desirable as to be fairly called, in our present stage of civilisation, a rational necessity for every child, male and female, in the nation, and that it should be carried on from the elementary to the secondary stage with just as many children as the nation can possibly afford means for. This is an entirely national interest, because the reason for the universal desirability of such general education is simply to make all the children into good citizens, useful and not dangerous, to the community. This being the national interest in it, it is evident that systematic teaching of the duties of citizenship and general morality is the most essential desideratum in such general education.
     The second obvious fact is that advanced technological or professional education must be an addition to technical training ; it is not independent of this latter ; it is, indeed, impossible except when reared as a superstructure upon the basis of technical knowledge. It is certainly true that no man or woman professional can ever reach to the consummate practical technical skill attained by the best of those who spend their lives in purely technical work. But every one who has any intimate knowledge of industry now freely admits that the pure scientist who has never had a technical training is of zero utility in the management and guidance of any industry whatever, however scientific its character. If any industrial interests are foolishly entrusted to his care, they are doomed to rapid ruin. We are here dealing with education or the preparatory processes making men fit for their work in the world ; not with the final results of their life-labours. In this preparatory process, technical training cannot be omitted from the curriculum of the technological student if his scientific knowledge and skill is to be useful to industry.
     Thirdly, it is obvious that those who ought to receive general and technical training are almost as numerous as the nation itself ; while those who can be usefully given technological professional education are a comparatively small number. The proportion of the nation who have ability and can find opportunity to turn such education to useful account has probably increased but little during the last half century, and will probably increase in the future very slowly, if at all.
     The fourth elementary truth which may be accepted as axiomatic is that, for the prosperity and progress of the nation as a whole, both classes of men, the many with good general and technical training and the few with high technological education superadded to these, are equally essential. It is futile to speculate as to the relative importance of the two ; each of them is (under modern industrial conditions) helpless, and therefore of no importance, by itself, and without the co-operation of the other. It follows that it is the duty of the modern civilised State to promote both classes of education.
     The general education costs relatively little even when of the best standard ; but not so little as is usually supposed, because a rational modern education must include the teaching of the natural sciences as well as languages and mathematics, and this involves considerable material equipment. The material equipment required for the technical training is much more costly. Since both are required for the great bulk of the people, it serves no good purpose to inquire closely into the relative costs of general and technical schooling ; but it is important to note that the total cost of the two per scholar taught is much beyond what could possibly be paid for it by the poorest of the parents, in spite of the great economies effected by co-operation of the whole nation in the task of education. It follows as a necessary consequence that the richest classes must pay for the education of the poorest classes. There is some intermediate class which, in the forms of direct payment of school fees and in taxation, just pays the real cost of the education of its children. But it has always been the actual fact that, partly by taxation and partly by individual gifts, the rich have paid the costs of the education of the poor. Of course it is perfectly just that they should do so, and that they should be compelled to do so in so far as they do not voluntarily fulfil this duty, because they have grown rich by help of the labours of the poor. But the inequality of the incidence of the cost in respect of general and technical education is by no means extreme. That is to say, a moderately low-incomed man, say of £300 to £500 income, probably pays in school fees and in education rates and taxes, the full real cost of the training of his children in these two grades.
     But when we come to high technological education the disproportion between real actual cost per scholar and the direct payment made by each scholar receiving it becomes extreme. No individual scholar, whether he be of the very richest or of poor parents, pays more than a mere fraction of the cost of what he receives. Some years ago the present writer estimated the real cost to be about three times the fees paid. The ratio has increased since then, and it is practically certain to increase still further. It may soon reach a ratio of six to eight because of three causes: (1) The rapid increase of costly material equipment deemed necessary, and the higher salaries paid to first-class specialist teachers ; (2) The growing conviction that it is a comparatively small number of scholars of this class that is really needed ; and (3) the already fairly well settled principle that this small number must, in order to secure the desired results, be selected in order of intellectual capacity, which involves making the education available for students who can pay only very moderate fees. A moderate estimate of the cost in salaries, wages, laboratory equipment and materials, and general management, including capital cost and upkeep of buildings, is from £150 to £200 per scholar per year. The excess over the fees paid is supplied by endowments, that is, by gifts, and in a smaller proportion by contributions from national taxation. It is expected that the contribution from taxation will be largely increased.
     The question now is whether it is advisable to make this practically free gift of a high special education to a small selected number of the people, and what are the rights of the people at large in the settlement of this question ?
     One part of this problem is, in the opinion of the writer, easy to consider, although the conclusion is opposite to that at present reached by most people. The institutions now giving this education justify their policy by an appeal to democratic sentiment in throwing their doors open to all corners of all classes on equal terms, and making those terms as low as possible. That is, the scale of fees is made as small as will suffice, along with the endowments, to balance income with expenditure. But the practical effect of the procedure is wholly the reverse of democratic. The scale of fees fixed on this principle is so high that only the fairly well-to-do, say those with incomes over £600 to £1000 (according to the College or University in question), can afford to pay them ; while really rich people are absolved from payments on behalf of their children, which they are both easily able and perfectly willing to make. The poor and moderately poor are excluded, and the abundantly rich are gratuitously endowed. This anomaly is sometimes defended on the one side by saying that the funds come mostly from generous bequests by members of this richest class, and that there is no unfairness in favouring, to some extent, members of this class, the number of such favoured students being always, after all, a small proportion of the whole : and on the other side by quoting the provision of scholarships for the intellectually meritorious among the poor. These appear to be only manufactured excuses for evident and glaring anomalies. It formed no part of the main intention or desire of the munificent and abundantly rich benefactor to endow his equally rich neighbours. Although he may have been persuaded that there was no easy way of avoiding doing this, his main aim has undoubtedly always been to give a share of the advantages of his wealth to the less fortunate of his fellow-countrymen. The system has the incidental disadvantage of fostering the idea among students and their parents that they actually do pay for what they get, and are not the recipients of favours in return for which they owe duties and compensations. The loyalty of the "old student " to his alma mater is founded upon personal affection and respect for his teachers and upon pleasant memories of student comradeships, and seldom, if ever, upon the idea that he has contracted an actual material debt to the institution and to the society which supports it.
     A fairer method of procedure would be to scale the normal fees to equality with the real actual total cost of what is given for them. At such normal fees the education should be open to all comers without entrance examination. If a rich man has a somewhat dull and stupid son or daughter, why should he be precluded, by the imposition of a severe intellectual entrance examination, from the performance of his very natural duty and desire to brighten the prospects, or to lessen the inutility, of his child by a process which will almost certainly do his child good and for which he is able and anxious to pay ?
     The number of rich men who will do this is small, and their sons will not supply all the intellectual material required for the industrial needs of the nation, although they may supply some of it. The bulk of this material, selected by effective tests as the most suited to fulfil the national requirements, will come from parents who cannot pay the whole cost. The portion which they cannot pay must be borne by others, and, since it is a national necessity to have a certain quantity of this material fully trained, the excess of cost, to the extent to which it is not covered by voluntary endowments, must clearly be defrayed out of national taxation. By what mode can this best be done ? The method adopted ought to be effective in securing the object aimed at, which is the best possible skilled guidance and promotion of the industries of the country, and it ought to be just to the taxpayers.
     The writer has no sympathy with the idea that students should receive scholarships as a matter of right on account of intellectual superiority. It may be a duty to the State devolving upon them to go through the training here contemplated, and to do in after life the work it fits them for ; but there are no personal rights involved in the question, except that undoubtedly no such student can have a right to accept such training at the cost of others and afterwards to neglect to use it for the purpose for which it has been given. Personal rights may depend upon, and arise out of, moral merits. They cannot be due to intellectual apart from moral superiority. Superior mental gifts are an advantage, not a merit giving claim to extra privileges. Mental superiority, trained or untrained, helped or unassisted, gives power throughout life to reap the greater share of the profits of industry. If there be any moral claim for special assistance from the State, such claim could surely be urged with greater justice on behalf of those who are less well equipped in brain power. High technological education is claimed as essential only for "Directors" and "Leaders " of industry. These leaders throughout life take as remuneration for their work a disproportionate share of the profits of industry, and take it by right. Their share may not be disproportionate to the material value of their work, but it is disproportionate to the amount of labour and fatigue, mental or physical, involved. Nature gives them from the beginning and throughout life an advantage, and if the State gives them still further special privileges, it ought to be clearly understood that this is done for the advantage of the nation at large, and not for that of the persons upon whom these privileges are bestowed.
     In the first place, then, except for those who pay in fees the full real cost of the education, entrance to the colleges giving high technological training should be restricted to the number estimated to fulfil the national requirements by tests sufficiently severe to effect this restriction. There should be no graded scale of fees, but only the one normal scale covering the whole real cost. There should be no free scholarships. But out of voluntary endowments and contributions derived from national taxation, there should be paid such parts of the normal fees payable ss the parents cannot afford to pay. Such payments of part fees should be made by way of loan, not to the parents, but to the students themselves. The re-payment of the loan should be arranged so as not to press at all upon the recipient during the first years of his industrial career, and so as not to hamper his successful progress at any stage of it. If, for instance, ten per cent. of the excess of his declared income over £300 were legally recoverable from him in repayment of the loan, and if voluntary repayment quicker than this were encouraged by making the amount repayable accumulate at compound interest, the desired object would be fulfilled. He would be hampered by no heavy log hung round his neck, and in most cases the debt would be quickly paid off with little effort. As to the proportion of college fees to be paid by loan from the college funds, this should be fixed in accordance with the parents' income. It will be found that if the parents be called on to pay direct five per cent, of their income, up to the limit of the full normal fee or whole real cost, this will not inflict hardship on any one, and will exact from parents no sacrifice out of proportion to the advantages gained by their son or sons. It would mean an annual payment of £10 from a man of £200 income, and of £150 from one of £3000 income. It would be advantageous not to exact payment of more than this five per cent. of income on account of more than one son or daughter receiving training, although the excess fees paid by loan would, of course, be payable in respect of each scholar.
     The writer's experience is, that freeing the parents wholly of liability for fees has usually the worst possible effect upon the student. And the student's idea that he receives this high and expensive education by virtue of his own personal right makes him a nuisance at college, and not infrequently turns him eventually into a thorough-going ne'er-do-weel after leaving college. The student should feel that he is specially privileged : he should feel to the full his responsibility for making the utmost possible use of the privileges granted him ; and he should feel also throughout his career that he owes a substantial debt to be repaid as quickly as possible for the steady maintenance of the national educational system which has helped him upwards. If these ideas of responsibility to the nation in the important positions these men are trained to, and of debt due to the institutions which have trained them, are cultivated so as to become normal among the men of this class, it will be rapidly discovered that they will, directly and indirectly, contribute to the future development of these institutions far more than the bare repayment of the money loan contracted by them.
     It has often been objected that the remission of fees in proportion to the parents' lack of income is objectionable, first because of the difficulty of getting true statements of income, and secondly because it is apt to create invidious and humiliating distinctions among the students who ought to fraternise as equals. The second objection will not apply to the system of loans here proposed. When a man arranges a loan from his banker, neither he nor his banker informs the whole circle of his acquaintances of the arrangement made. Mention of the fee-loans need not be made outside the privacy of the college treasury ledger. On the other band, free scholarships on the existing plan are always widely advertised, and the worst of them is that they are often given where they are not needed. Then why should it be more difficult to obtain a true sworn statement of income for this purpoce than for the collection of income-tax? The personal income-tax returns do not now give the true individual incomes in respect of dividends, &c., &c. ; but it used to do so with a fair approximation to accuracy. And no material harm or injustice would arise from making the minimum payment by parents £8, or 5 per cent. of £160, the minimum income which has to be declared for taxation.
     The essential aims of the suggestions here made are: (1) to ensure that the high training given to a small number of selected men and women shall be earnestly turned to real account in the general interests of the nation at large; (2) to make the scheme for defraying the costs very easy to the parents of the scholars beet fitted for such training, so that none of the best material shall be lost on account of the inability of parents to pay; (3) to remove, as far as is compatible with efficiency, the ultimate burden of the cost from the shoulders of the tax-payers, who in the bulk are poor and receive relatively small shares of the profits of industry, on to those of the men who reap relatively large shares of these profits because of this high training so given them by the State; (4) to make the repayment by the recipients of these benefits so easy as not to interfere with their personal prosperity and industrial utility; and (5) to minimise the total expenditure, and avoid wasteful expenditure, in this direction by restricting the number so trained to the requirements of the nation.
     The arguments and plans set forth here apply to high training in any or all the professions which are materially profitable to those who engage in them; manufacturing, commerce, law, medicine.
     They will not apply to several professions which do not bring high remuneration to their highly-educated members. Literature and music, divinity and pastoral work, the study and promotion of philosophy and of pure science, are such professions. They are certainly necessary for the welfare and progress of mankind, and mast be provided for, but on different principles to those applying to the remunerative professions. The bulk of the work done in them, including popular novel writing, popular preaching, and popular newspaper editing, is, and will probably remain, low-class, and sufficient provision is made for it in the universal general secondary education. But high-class work in these professions yields a nation's most precions possessions, and the men who do it are seldom paid for their work enough to provide them with food and clothing. It is evidently the duty of the State to provide for the highest possible education of these men on principles entirely distinct from those expounded in this paper.


     Westminster Review, June 1906

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