I admit this is just a silly example, but imagine – if you will – you are a major multinational publisher with substantial interests in education. You have a need for skilled employees who have a background in business, but such is the strength of your company culture you are increasingly finding that graduates do not have the precise mix of skills and obedience you so desperately need.
Corporate training is expensive, both in terms of providing the actual learning, and in covering the salary costs of employees undertaking it. This is especially galling when you train new employees who might subsequently leave to travel, have children, start rock bands, sit motionless in a darkened room muttering “leverage” under their breath for 23 hours every day – all those funny things that young people who don’t understand life like to do.
You’ve tried using internships, getting people to work for free, but there’s been a little bit of a public backlash. And the ongoing collapse of capitalism has left you short of ready money – as unlike your competitor you’ve not had the foresight to buy an international financial rating organisation.
But then in comes that saviour of market-driven efficiency – the government. Slyly it whispers:
“What if your new employees paid for their own training via a low cost loan from the government? And what if you didn’t need to pay them a salary whilst they were training? And what if you were under no obligation to employ them, even after they completed their training? And what if they could work for you, for free, whilst training?”
“But sir,” you gasp. “Surely this is too good to be true?”
“It is true,” comes the reply, “it is higher education.”
Incredulously, you pace the room.
“Don’t you need to adhere to complex regulations about quality assurance processes to be a University?”
“Ah, well, we’re working on some legislation to fix that. But in the mean time you could just enter an agreement with an existing institution, who would handle all that quality stuff.”
“Excellent? But wouldn’t our students get a degree they could use anywhere – couldn’t they just walk away and work for someone who pays them fairly?”
“They could,” comes the response, “but your degree is likely to be so enmeshed with your corporate culture that it would be difficult to use it elsewhere. And there are so few graduate jobs around these days that they probably wouldn’t get the opportunity”.
“No wages, training costs from the government – this all sounds brilliant? Maybe I could use a former NUS chair to add a patina of legitimacy to the whole sordid enterprise?”
“Yes, you could. But you’d have to find one with a very open mind…”