Don’t subsidise the drones

Older readers may dimly recall an almost forgotten prime minister whose mantra was "education, education, education". His rule began back in the profligate 20th century, when the school curriculum was broken up into bite-sized modulettes, ensuring that anybody with half a brain and a small reserve of staying power could amass half a dozen A grades at what was laughingly called the "advanced level" of the General Certificate of Stupendous Easiness.

Armed with these "qualifications", young people attended so-called universities, where they were encouraged to drink, take drugs, fornicate and watch daytime television. Eventually, even a Labour government realised it couldn't subsidise these drones indefinitely. Secret polling carried out by my market-research arm - You-Bastard-Gov - suggested students would be prepared to pay towards their three-year holidays, rather than grow up. And so the current system of loans and fees was born.

Initially, student contributions were set at a modest level but student numbers continued to climb, so the fees were raised, too. Nobody, however, imagined that tuition charges would be ratcheted up to £9,000 per annum. But once again I was able to assure the cabinet that You-Bastard-Gov's polling indicated these fees would be acceptable.

I was lying, of course. My research determined that the extortionate new charges would lead to resentment, rioting and falling rolls, not to mention falling fire extinguishers. Students would at last turn off The Weakest Link, stub out the longest spliff, and question the very basis of our higher education system.

Suddenly the idea of a three-year degree course, during which one undertook approximately three months' work, would seem an unaffordable luxury.

As you know, my predictions were correct and now the higher education system is under extreme stress. Indeed, lesser institutions - former technical colleges and borstals that somehow acquired university status - may be forced to shut down. But as long as the university system remains part of the apparatus of the state, real change remains impossible.

This is why my pet homunculus, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, will introduce the Higher Education Privatisation Bill early next year. This will allow favoured individuals to set up their own universities. Flexibility will be the watchword. Indeed, at the B'Stard Group of Virtual Universities, some courses will be as short as six weeks and others won't even exist - just pay the fees and get the certificate. Then, my students can get out of their skull in their own time, unless I decide to offer PPE as a degree course. That's "pills, pot and Ecstasy", obviously.

As told to Marks and Gran

This article first appeared in the 06 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Vietnam: the last battle