Too many of our children leave school ill-equipped to tackle the challenges of the real world. Too many of our graduates leave college with massive debt and a qualification that does little to enhance their potential contribution to the economy.
Different kids have different educational needs. We need a range of schools with a variety of philosophies and specialities, catering to the different needs of different kids. That means freeing schools from central control, to pursue their distinct visions.
Parents are the best people to know what sort of school would best suit their child. Parents must have the freedom to choose their child's school, and schools should have the incentive and the ability to adjust their intake to meet demand from parents.
We can create these conditions by giving parents control over the money budgeted for their children in the state sector, and giving schools control over their own affairs. In effect, each parent would gain the same freedom and power that is enjoyed by wealthy parents of public-school students, and each school would gain the same freedom and power that is enjoyed by public schools.
Many non-vocational, as well as vocational subjects play an important role in our understanding of the world. We should seek to attract the highest level of expertise in all fields to our universities, and for sufficient top-grade students to study under them that that understanding is passed on and advanced.
BUT, we must distinguish between the value of an educational elite for teaching and research across all fields, and the value of further education for the wider population. If half our young people go to university, most of them will not be such geniuses that they will be expanding our understanding in their field of study.
For most of them, the purpose of further education is some combination of personal interest and advancement. These are perfectly good reasons for people to want to educate themselves, but not to expect other people to pay for the privilege.
Our society needs large numbers of people who have been educated in certain subjects, such as healthcare, engineering and education. In these cases, everyone will share in the benefit of their education, and we may choose to encourage people to study these subjects by supporting them financially. In other cases, particularly the less vocational subjects, the benefit of educating more than the number required to maintain our elite capabilities is enjoyed mainly by the recipients of the education. These people should pay for their privilege, if only retrospectively (via finance).
Education for pleasure, intellectual development, and career advancement should not be limited to a subset of young people. Indeed, the study of many subjects will benefit from experience of life. We should place less emphasis on higher education as a middle-class rite of passage, and more emphasis on further education as an ongoing process available within the community to all people of all ages and backgrounds.