Jiva Technology

What happens to education if we have Universal Basic Income?

The threat of automation has given rise to a lot of chatter in the press about the merits Universal Basic Income (UBI). Its a simple idea, whereby all citizens receive an income from the State, whether they work or not. In theory, it replaces all other forms of state support, such as pensions, unemployment benefit and housing benefit, thereby radically simplifying the system. In a world where robots might be doing most of the work and therefore work might be scarce, the idea is to break the link between work and income. A number of trials are underway at the moment in Scotland, the Netherlands and Finland, designed to gauge the impacts of UBI.

Very little has been said about the impact of introducing UBI on education. For the most part, getting a good education has been about getting rewarding and fulfilling work at the end of it, but most of us will recognise the ambivalence many teenagers feel towards education, particularly as they near the end of their time at school. Its usually at that point that parents and teachers will resort to a mix of threats and encouragement about ‘your future’ to get students over the last few hurdles. But what if it doesn’t matter – you’re going to get paid anyway? What if you are going to have the time to study when you’re 26 or 36 or 76? Does that change what we study or more importantly, when we study? An honest answer would be, “who knows?”, but spending even a few moments thinking about it makes you realise the profound implications for education.

One thing is for sure, there will still be a need for scientists and engineers and artists and performers. How do you encourage some to study hard when others are at liberty to do nothing … although some might argue that this happens already. It becomes clear that impact of automation, artificial intelligence and robotics will have a profound impact on our society, but education is an area that has historically moved at a slow pace, for various reasons. It could be that we need to start thinking about some of these issues sooner, rather than later.

The introduction of Universal Basic Income could allow us the freedom to study subjects that we enjoy without the hindrance of it being valued in the jobs marketplace. In combination with social media, it could allows groups of citizen scientists, historians and engineers  to push back the boundaries of human knowledge at a faster rate, unfettered by formal structures. Or it could lead to a complete mess and the abrupt slowing of knowledge acquisition and growth as organisation and funding disappears. It feels like the sort of topic that deserves intense public debate, which is unfortunate given that the issue has arisen at an all time low for considered public argument.


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