Two pieces by Rod Liddle in today’s Sunday Times:
No shame in being thick. As long as you’re not taking a degree in astrophysics
A university professor, seething with the sort of restrained rage that I assume afflicts these people most of the time, once told me a story about a contretemps between him and a student. He had marked the student’s essay and given it a very low grade because it was, as he put it, “abject illiterate gibberish, devoid of argument, intelligence, grammar, syntax or point”.
The student, a woman, complained about the grading to the university authorities, who swiftly summoned the professor for a chat. Why did he give the essay such a low grade? The professor explained. He was then asked: “You do know that this student has trouble reading, writing and understanding things?” He replied that he did indeed, because before every seminar he had to email the woman, in bold 20-point type, the gist of what he would be saying condensed into about four words.
“Well, then, you need to make allowances in marking,” he was told. How? “You need to imagine what the essay might have been like if she were capable of reading and writing and understanding, and then mark it accordingly.”
I thought this story hilarious and revealing. I had naively supposed that in further education a certain academic rigour still asserted itself: not so. Not even on the politics course at this Russell Group university.
I have no idea what the student is doing now. She’s probably somewhere on the Labour front bench, or presenting one of BBC Radio 5’s afternoon shows. But the obvious question is: why would someone who has trouble reading, writing and understanding stuff go to a university? Or indeed be allowed in? Isn’t it a bit like an amputee signing up for a two-week course in arm-wrestling? Isn’t it kind of inappropriate?
It should be, and yet isn’t. The mantra for the past 20 years has been that university is for everyone, regardless of whether or not they have the IQ of a bowl of oxtail soup.
The government has, thankfully, dropped the aspiration — held for two decades now — that 50% of school-leavers should go to university. This policy was announced, with pride, by Tony Blair’s government in 1999 and stands as being the third-most-stupid and damaging thing that administration did (after the Iraq War and unconstrained immigration). The idea was to give working-class kids a better chance of further education and thus of improving their station in life.
It has failed abysmally on the second count. Instead, we have thousands upon thousands of young people, often from poor backgrounds, saddled with £30,000 of debt after three years of gender realignment studies at the University of West Norfolk (formerly Downham Market Tech). Industry cannot find a place for these people, and the kids have been sold a pup, a bad pup. They emerge no more literate than they went in, and the only thing they have gained is a capacity to be annoying. They are devoid of practical skills.
Worse still, perhaps, it has served to make a university education almost a necessity for young people. The better alternatives — the old technical college qualifications, or apprenticeships — are seen as the options for failures. That mindset has to change. University is not the be-all and end-all.
If you don’t believe me, take it from a chap called Euan Blair, Tony’s son, who said his dad was wrong and urged the country to pour more money into apprenticeships and on-the-job training. I wouldn’t dispute for a moment that we need to narrow the gap in outcomes between our social classes. Grammar schools managed to do this for a time in the 1960s, but for many reasons they are not the answer now. Nor is the chimera of universities for all. If I were Gavin Williamson, I’d make the new aspiration somewhere in the region of 10%.
I’ve identified my dream job
Might be time for a change of career. Put something back into society. In particular, our brave and cash-strapped National Health Service. The job that attracts me is at Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust. It’s assistant director, equality, diversity and inclusion. I think I fit the bill. I am attracted not least by the salary, which is £73,664 per annum. I shall go down on one knee at the interview and identify as something I am plainly not: perhaps a hearing-impaired pansexual Comanche. I might even wear a headdress. And they won’t be able to argue. I am what I say I am, and for 70 grand I will be whatever you want me to be.
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