Don’t abandon the idea of a university

It’s a pity Simon Jenkins doesn’t run his own blog as ace controversialist as well as Chair of the National Trust. This champion of that oxymoron the civilising market is in fine form today, denouncing in a dozen ways in as many paragraphs not only the UK government’s proposed university settlement but  the thinking behind it and the basic concept of what’s being financed:

There is not an arts course invented that could not be completed in 18 months, and probably not a science one. As for most postgraduate degrees and doctorates, they are plain indulgences.

I was nodding vigorously by the time I got to this sentence, so dazzled was I by the style – insistent yet persuasive, polemical yet reasonable, rooted in history yet looking to real life and the future. Then I stopped short as I spotted a basic flaw in the case.

It is the time needed for learning not for teaching that stretches the experience to about three years. There is simply no way even the most conscientious student can absorb all the reading (or experiments) necessary to get an average degree in 18 months. This will provoke the usual cynicism about all the time taken to get drunk, to riot in the Holy land etc, but that’s a diversion. The teaching checks out the reading and requires a spread of time.

I too am suspicious of the value of much research – not that most of us are any judge – but here again, it’s often not the research itself that counts but the discipline acquired that may lead on to more productive work. Finally, if you must be cynical, isn’t it an improvement  for students and post grads to have to pay back most of the bill for their  years of unproductive employment rather than “live off the State?”

In the end, a limited market in universities will assert itself and the numbers will probably fall in favour of more unashamedly vocational training. This may be no bad thing, but financial austerity is no excuse for abandoning the idea of a university.

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  • Anon

    The idea that university is solely to produce little economic units and nothing else is depressing. A Levels have long been all about the exam and getting every advantage on the exam that’d explain a fair proportion of the increase aside from any grade inflation. It would be a shame, and a loss (even economic) if uni goes the same way entirely.

  • Johnny Boy

    I’ve in general been in agreement in principle with a lot of what the coalition government has proposed up until now, but I think they have got this wrong. It’s clear that individuals from challenging financial backgrounds will be put off by these fees, and coming out of university with mortgage sized debt, has got to be an albatross around the shoulders for graduates.

  • Glencoppagagh

    A high proportion of students are aiming to become “little economic units” by pursuing vocational courses. That being the case, why not process them as efficiently as possible.
    I do think 18 months is too short through.

  • Driftwood

    There are a glut of mediocre ‘universities’ that are simply wasting time and money on courses that are really FE college level. They need culled to up the standard.

    The Open University may prove the ultimate winner out of this change in the social dynamics of third level education.

  • Driftwood
  • Alan Maskey

    Fair play to the gardai for giving Dublin “students” a lesson in the university of hard knocks.

  • Dublin 1966, Derry 1968, Dublin 2010, Alan. Slugger seems to have missed this little bit of baton-wielding.

  • Driftwood

    Let’s hope none of the gardai dogs were injured by those student scumbags. They seem to have plenty of money for booze.

  • Anon

    We should be encouraging them to broaden themselves rather than sticking them on a factory line.

  • Glencoppagagh

    Following up Driftwood’s point, a lot of the less academic degree courses (ie most things with ‘studies’ appended) could be devolved to FE colleges using peripatetic lecturers. More students could stay at home and the Holylands might become a more agreeable place to live.

  • Glencoppagagh

    “It is the time needed for learning not for teaching that stretches the experience to about three years.”

    Brian, that is nonsense. My daughter attends a Russell group university where her academic year was completed by mid-May. How much reading is done in 20 week summer vacations? Not a lot, I think.
    The idea of long vacations originated when university education was confined to the leisured classes and is no longer appropriate but it is naturally congenial to academics.

  • Driftwood

    The really crappy ‘universities’- and we all have an idea who they are, including locally – are going to struggle to attract students.
    Private Eyes’ ‘University of Neasden (formerly north circular poly)” has its real life equivalents across the UK. many will not survive.
    Few will mourn their passing.

  • Alan Maskey

    Cannnot agree with you this time, Driftwood. Politicians will miss them. It will make it harder for them to keep empty, silly promises of giving everyone a worthless degree.
    I watched a few minutes of The Weakest Link the other night, whilst eating. One contestant when asked what she did said she was a barmaid but then told us she had a Media Studies degree.
    I reckon demand will stay high: universities seem to be recession proof.
    It will be good to get rid of Irish and British wasters and make room for Chinese workers. The Iirsh go on with the threat they might emigrate. Good riddance, rioters.

  • Alan Maskey

    Here is one of RTE’s videos. A young good looking student out to make her point with 25,000 others before the vermin of Sinn Fein hijacked the protest and turned it violengt. Time to kick the Sinn Fein trouble makers, who are the antithis of rational discourse, off the campus.

  • Alan, I’ve not seen any mention of SF. Eirigi, WSM and SWP are mentioned in relation to the violence.

    Lorcan Myles, a Free Education for Everyone activist told us that “One female student was knocked unconscious during the assault on the crowd, and other students clearly displayed head injuries. The Gardaí rushed the crowd on numerous occasions, including spectators on the street. The crowd, which at this point had swelled up to 2,000 students with many from the main demonstration joining us, vented their anger at the response of the Gardaí who had begun encircling them.”

  • Alan Maskey

    Watch the vidoes and you will see 1. Eirigi banners 2. SF banners. 3. Anarchist flags 4. Tricolours (wtf) 5. Guys pulling hoodies over their heads, with the front of them saying: Fuck police brutality.
    Go here:

    On the set of videos, four in the first row and two in the second, go to the last video of the second row, an amateur one with a good angle. All of the above is clearly visible in it.
    Also watch the last video in the first row. The nice student is really pissed off with the Sinn Fein vermin pissing on their parade.

    The other videos show well meaning, young and probably serious students whose peaceful and legitimate protest was hijacked by the cretins for their own creitinous reasons. The students, USI etdc, have disowned the SF scumbags but time will change that.

    It is kind of funny the Garai tossed the vermin out of the officers they were occupying. Not much resistance when the numbers don’t stack up.

    Hopefully, Ireland’s mercenary nurses will be next.

  • Driftwood

    The ‘lecturers’ at Northern Ireland’s joke ‘university’ UU Coleraine must be worried that their gravy train may be about to hit an abrupt halt.

    Did anyone from that farcical institution ever get a job?

  • Alan Maskey

    MIchelle Gildernew and Basil McCrea both got jobs. So too did Brian Keenan the hostage. Wonder how he is getting on.

  • Driftwood

    Is that the extent of its Alumni?
    Says it all.

    Along with the university of West Preston et al, can’t see anyone paying a grand a year, never mind 7 grand for a useless certificate.
    Applied Hairdressing, media studies, golf and coffee making- learn on the job folks.
    And missing 3 years of actually earning an income instead of wasting them watching countdown and deal or no deal before breakfast and a dander on Portstewart strand may help to concentrate the mind further.

  • Glencoppagagh

    You’re being slightly unfair on UUC. It started as one of the wave of 1960s plate-glass universities like Essex, Kent etc. and was academically fairly sound if a little trendy. It even attracted quite a few students from elsewhere in the UK. It was the merger with Jordanstown that probably did for it though I have the impression that the Coleraine bit is still of a superior quality to the other sites.

  • Driftwood

    Probably. The merge with the poly puts it firmly in the GM Conference league with Wolverhampton, Thames, John Moores etc. Clearing colleges for students who couldn’t make the grades.

  • BeliKunghi

    I don’t really know enough about the rest of UUC, but I remember a few years ago biomedical science research at coleraine was “world class” according to the RAE ratings, not sure if it’s still there now…