Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
You can slag off an Oxford education off as much as you wish. said an ex-girlfriend of mine, rather waspishly. But the one thing it does do is to teach you how to spot a bullshit argument.
I suspect that it also endows you with the sophistry to construct one. I replied, Or all those politicians wouldn't go there, would they? With this, I finished my can of lager, lit a roll-up and belched.
And so with one yobbish counterblast, I shot another chip of honey-stone off one of British education's misty minarets. The middle-class in this country have an obsession with university education which currently borders on the fetishistic. Their faith in the system is in many cases touchingly misplaced. Nearly everyone goes to university these days. At least half of them don't seem to be able to sling a coherent sentence together or add up their pay-slip.
I hear on the radio news that there aren't enough places at university to go round. Good. Places which used to be colleges or polytechnics are now given the status of universities. Young people who attend university routinely come out of them anywhere between £12,000 and £22,000 in debt to the state. But you don't have to pay it back. I'm told Not unless you get a job making x thousand a year. And you don't necessarily get a job either.
I do actually think it's probably a good idea to go to Uni if you're planning to be a doctor, a vet or any kind of scientist. Ancient and modern languages are probably good things to study at uni, too and I'm sure there are a number of other things. The universities themselves seem to be full of fairly unhappy lecturers, many of whom are having to waste time producing large amounts of spurious 'research' in order to justify their jobs. At least one high-ranking academic of my acquaintance is glad to be doing this, since he thinks that the material he's getting sent to work with that is, the students isn't quite up to what it once was. And he does have genuinely valuable reasearch to do.
Universities have had to become competitive. The old Socratic principles of education seem to have more or less gone out of the window. Our universities now take a large number of students from abroad, most notably, the far east. It's good business. They pay lots of money. Everyone I speak to, from the admin people through to the lecturers seems pissed off. The only uni I can think of that makes any sort of sense these days, seems to be the Open University. Having said that, it sounds frightfully dull and the other universities secretly laugh at it.
The myth persists that you won't get a good job unless you go to uni. The facts remain that you mostly can't get a job even if you do. What kind of a start are we giving young people if they surface, aged twenty-two from the torpor of a used-to-be-shit-poly-but-now-it's a pretend uni with a huge financial debt? You'd be better off learning plumbing, working a lap-dancing club or, come to that, doing card tricks on street corners. They ought to make it harder to get to uni. And then they ought to make it .not just free, but with a generous unconditional grant. From evidence I've seen over recent years, there's a huge swathe of young people who are doing something at uni, but whatever it is they're not being educated.
I walked out of education when I was fifteen. Didn't even take any o-levels. Haven't got a single qualification. Never went back. Wouldn't want to go back. And as a result I have all the self-opinionated arrogance of the typical working-class auto-didact to prove it. But I can string a sentence together and I can do my own book-keeping. If my son or daughter told me they wanted to go to uni, they'd better have a pretty good reason for it because in most cases, these days, they'd be better off with a job and a library ticket.
It's the ultimate sucker punch for the concerned classes. The persistent lie being circulated today is that you need those qualifications or employers won't even look at you. Well, I know at least two local employers that just want somebody bright, punctual and hard-working. They wouldn't give a flying V whether you'd been to uni or not. You can still work your way up to CEO from coffee boy. Never let anyone tell you that you can't.
Another interesting thing with academic institutions, is the way, once a year, they hand out honorary degrees like lollipops to people in the wider community. This is a feelgood gesture. It's good p.r. And it helps to fold the town into the gown. Oh and it also helps the duller institutions get a few luminaries on their roll-call that they may have missed out. There's a certain amount of cachet, if say, you could have Bono or Mick Jagger up there on the board. Would I ever take one? Dunno. No-one's offered, yet. But probably not. It's not the institution, I object to. It's the idea of having to stand around in a hot hall half the afternoon with that stupid gown and hat on.And anyway, by whose authority and judgement do they decide that you're worthy of it?
Until they make university free again and more difficult to get into, unless you're going to be a doctor or a physicist it ain't worth a light, these days. Too many universities and not enough education, is what I reckon. Just thought I'd get that off my chest. Probably get shot to ribbons for it. Don't really care.