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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bad Science

I read this morning that Reading University is planning to close its physics department, as it is “no longer feasible” to retain it. Eh? Are you quite sure? Last time I looked, physics was… well, you know, kind of important.
More important than a BA in Film and Theatre, or the BA in War & Peace (not the book) which Reading sees fit to continue to offer.
I know I joke about us producing a nation of media studies whores who, like me, reach their thirties knowing absolutely nothing of any value apart from how to write competently about things they don’t care about (coupled nicely with an overwhelming sense of underachievement and disillusionment) but REALLY. It’s depressing to think that semi-useful degrees are being sidelined in favour of the BA in Utter Bollocks, isn’t it? Or is it just me?
The problem is that the life that lots of graduates believe they should have (presumably, in the case of graduates of the above, life as the next Martin Scorcese or as a world-rescuing Superhero) doesn’t – for the vast majority of them – exist, and never really did. Going to University and studying film will not make you a film director, because it will not – pay attention – make you talented. What it will make you is heavily in debt with no meaningful qualification in a jobs market that is already overflowing with similarly underskilled “graduates” who – if they’ve got any intelligence at all – have started to realise that they should’ve done a proper degree (e.g. physics) and got a proper job (e.g. research, lecturing, bomb-making, take your pick). Either that or they’ve been even cannier and gone to technical college and learnt how to be a plumber.
Frankly, if you’re going to end up working in sales anyway, why don’t you just cut to the sodding chase and get paid for working in sales for an extra three years instead of wasting your time at University? Who knows, you might stand some chance of getting a mortgage before you’re 40 that way.
Instead of churning out pointless unskilled individuals with £20,000 of debt and little chance of achieving a worthwhile career, we should have a University system in which a SMALLER percentage of people get degrees. (I know, how thoroughly radical.) Before you think I’m being elitist, I’m not proposing that only RICH people should go to University. Far from it. I’m proposing that LESS people should go to University (with the government insanely but enthusiastically encouraging 50% of kids to go into higher education, it doesn’t take a genius to work out why it has started to cost so bloody much, does it?). WHY should 50% of school leavers go to Uni? What the hell is the point in THAT? (More to the point, since when were 50% of school leavers smart enough to hold a degree? Oh yes - when they made A Levels easier than breaking wind). I know if I had my time again I absolutely wouldn’t bother with University - and I speak as one of those rare beasts whose degree actually had some relevance to my subsequent career, albeit tenuously.
Here's an idea. People who want to work in jobs that don’t require a degree (for that read “most of them, including mine”) shouldn’t do a degree, and those whose chosen path does require a qualification (doctors, scientists, civil engineers, lawyers, etc) should get one. That way, instead of penalising graduates with crippling debt for the sin of wanting to be a GP, we can makes Scots of all of us and give them their education for free. It isn’t rocket science (not that we’d be able to tell, of course, what with physics no longer being “feasible”).

Alternatively, of course, we can stick to a system that lets the offspring of the upper middle classes piss about for three years doing 2.3 hours worth of “work” a week (while nurturing impressive alcohol and drug habits and being condescending to everyone in the service industry) and which will soon price absolutely everyone else out of higher education. Yeah, let’s do that.

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