March 26, 2006

A meaty topic to start, 'Numbers at University'

This is something I have considered for a while and thought would be a good way to starts my blog.

Though I was prompted by this remark in the middle of a totally separate debate.
"Tony Blair wants 50% of the population to get a degree. I've never heard such a load of cobblers. That was tried in, of all places, Soviet Russia in the 1970s, with disastrous consequences. Farms couldn't get workers, professors had to sign on near-illiterates to fill quotas (something beloved of the central planning control freaks in the Blair gvt, with their obsessions over waiting lists etc), and education was soon seen as a joke, something any fool could get. By contrast, those who could actually do something such as tradesmen became greatly in demand. I'll stop here as this is clearly a subject for another blog someone might want to start. " James

This seems a sensible standpoint which I will deconstruct further.

The first question how much academic education do we need to function well in a society and at what stage in School education do we achieve this ?

I ask this because if you take the extreme view that everyone should start working as soon as they can do what they need to do. Then all you need is get to the stage of functioning well then learn your specialist trade..

This is clearly a flawed argument because of the need for transferable skills in a fluid and unpredictable Job market, and the important desire to want to further human knowledge in general.
But you can go to far the other way.
People are studying at university for reasons that are very superficially created.
Before I expand on this I must say I believe everyone has the right to go to university if they desire to do so. And at no point in this am I referring to Warwick university individually.

What I believe is happening though is many people are going to university because of the fear that the lack of a degree will inhibit their professional career. In doing this SOME are studying a subject they have little interest in and are loosing years of their live where they could be earning money.
They are going to university because of the fact that they feel they need a rubber stamp saying 'I have got a degree therefore, I am intelligent, reliable, hard working or whatever; enough so I can get certain types of Job… If you look at it like this it is odd that are society has evolved to this so inefficient way entering work.

Could put more but you get the gist, I will expand if their are any comments/ question.


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  1. Welcome Benjamin. And say goodbye to any revision :)

    27 Mar 2006, 00:07

    1. What does the number of spelling mistakes in your entry say about entrance requirements to Warwick University (or the ability to use a spell checking program?)
    2. Haven't rather successful countries such as South Korea a much higher proportion of people in Further Education than the UK?
    3. Should all Further Education as academic as the sort of education provided by the pre-1992 universities?
    4. Aren't most people with degrees too specialized?

    27 Mar 2006, 11:09

  2. Easy Crazy, how's it going man?

    27 Mar 2006, 14:35

  3. Sorry about spelling mistakes; first my spelling is not great anyway, secondly when I type fast I sometimes punch the wrong keys or just not give adequate thought on the way I am spelling words and I did not check through it or spell check before publishing.
    I have amended the mistakes I can find. From now on thier will hopefully be less mstakes.

    27 Mar 2006, 15:49

  4. To George you make valid and interesting points.
    If everyone at university was studying things either because they were interested in them or because they needed to know these things for a particular job they wanted to do, then at least one of society or the person studying is gaining from the university degree.
    Many people though are at university for neither of these reasons.
    This is the main thrust of my argument.
    I am not making a comment about which degrees are offered at university , because Any degree could be justified if their is a demand for people studying it Though possibly the fact that their is a larger variety of degrees now then their use to be is because of the need for people to find something to study so that they can go to university for the reasons I outlined in my article.

    Specialization of degrees I believe is inevitable with the fact that there is more knowledge 'out there' but the same amount of time to study it.
    You are right that many people in South Korea go to university but I cannot say the reasons they are going to university? Certainly the South Korean economy is improving but how successfully a given country is, is difficult to say.

    27 Mar 2006, 16:22

  5. HI BIG BEN how is it going in Leicester.

    27 Mar 2006, 16:23

  6. It's ok man, how's London

    27 Mar 2006, 21:04

  7. I agree that the it's a bit silly trying to entice people into taking courses when they aren't really interested in the subject. The carrot of higher earnings in some distant time is just not large enough to overcome the current pain.

    You can classify jobs in to three classes:

    Class D: unskilled or rather whatever skills are needed, the vast majority of people in the workforce have got them. Stuff like bar work or cleaning

    Class C: You need some months of training and plenty of people would never make the grade anyway. Mechanics, plumbers, the lower level of nurse or journalist.

    Class B: Some years of training are needed. Doctors, lawyers, design engineers, accountants, architects …

    The problem is that the prospects in class D will get worse and worse. So if you can entice some people whose parents were in class C to take class B occupations (needing a University education) that makes room for people from class D to get some training and move into class C. But whether financial inducements are much use is another question. Removing financial blocks, so that people who want to study are not prevented from doing so due to lack of cash is another matter.

    28 Mar 2006, 09:53

  8. "Before I expand on this I must say I believe everyone has the right to go to university if they desire to do so."

    I don't think everyone does. Shouldn't higher education be intellectually exclusive, at least to some extent?

    "The problem is that the prospects in class D will get worse and worse."

    Is this really the case George? Already we're seeing a resurgence in many class C positions with very competitive salaries, because so many people are trying to move to class B and leaving class C behind. So surely a similar thing will happen if too many people try to move from class D to class C? If anything, I'd say if anything there are decreased prospects these days in class B, because so many people now have a good degree/A-Level qualifications (I make no comment at this time on falling standards to achieve grades), it's becoming much more competitive and outright ability is no longer enough; employers are increasingly demanding skills which weren't previously particularly relevant to the line of work (I have personal experience of this!)

    28 Mar 2006, 13:33

  9. 'This is clearly a flawed argument because of the need for transferable skills in a fluid and unpredictable Job market, and the important desire to want to further human knowledge in general.'

    A large part of the current problem is that many children are not learning the transferable skills they need. The education system as it currently stands does not allow many less academic children the time to learn their basic reading, writing and arithmetic at a slower pace. By forcing everyone along the same treadmill many are being left behind. I worked as a teaching assistant in a state secondary school before coming to university and regularly worked with 15 and 16 year olds who could not spell common four-letter words, or divide 12 by 4, or construct a sentence with more than one clause (assuming that you could actually read their handwriting to understand what they meant in the first place). Employers taking children on for work experience or apprenticeships complained that they had completely inadequate 'basic' skills.

    28 Mar 2006, 13:56

  10. James

    Benjamin

    Thanks for turning my off-topic diatribe into a blog, it's nice to know someone found it of interest.

    I think – and I'm trying not to sound snobbish – that one of the initial questions has to be whether 50% of the population has the academic ability to obtain a degree in the first place. It was always stated to be 10% when I was an undergraduate. I don't think everyone has equal academic ability, and haven't met anyone who does. That being so, it would only be possible to get numbers with degrees in the region of 50% of the population by lowering standards (unless the standard's that low already, and people are only precluded from going because of funding. If so, then the standard should be raised).

    I think bringing in ever more degree courses requiring ever decreasing levels of academic ability does no-one a favour, it just cheapens the idea of a degree. It leaves a host of people with student debts and a record of spending three years obtaining something when they could have been learning a trade or travelling the world or doing charity work or anything else more worthwhile. I doubt a cheapened degree will provide anyone with transferable skills and from what I know of the job market a degree rapidly recedes into the background so far as marketability is concerned; candidates' work record is much more important.

    Another consequence in the other direction might be unfair stigmatising of those who can't even get a degree seen as easily obtainable, when they might have other marketable skills.

    I know intellectual achievement is valuable in its own right, as is the knowledge obtained and spread thereby, but it is not the be-all and end-all.

    More pragmatically, funding the increased numbers is going to become an issue – as if this country didn't already have enough issues with personal debt and public expenditure as it is.

    Referring to post 8, there will always be a lot of class D&C jobs and they're not the sort which require degree skills. Rather, they require technical knowledge and on the job experience, not media studies or sociology degrees. I think it is a shame in many ways that people are starting to degrade the idea of tradespeople and apprenticeships.

    As for Sarah's comment regarding illiteracy and lack of basic mathematics, it's not the first time I've heard such anecdotes and it suggests the Government ought to make more of an effort to sort out secondary education rather than try and ram more of these illiterates into tertiary education.

    28 Mar 2006, 14:57

  11. You got a hot topic with your second entry, which means you must be doing something right. :)

    But like Siggy I don't think university should be a right. The problem is finding a way of ensuring those who shouldn't be going (ie those not academically gifted enough) are kept out fairly without excluding those who should be given the option.

    28 Mar 2006, 16:15

  12. It's not just the secondary schools that have a problem – children should be taught basic skills like those I mentioned way before the age of 12 (or 11 if you live in a 'normal' place, unlike me). One huge problem the secondary schools have is that if a child has got that far behind by the time they reach secondary school it as very difficult, what with large class sizes and the attitude to work that a lot of these kids have as a result of not being able to keep up in class, to bring each of those children back up to the level where they can cope with the National Curriculum for their agegroup.

    Anyway, I digress…

    28 Mar 2006, 17:43

  13. Referring to post 8, there will always be a lot of class D&C jobs and they're not the sort which require degree skills. Rather, they require technical knowledge and on the job experience, not media studies or sociology degrees.

    Firstly class D require few skills that most adults haven't got. That's why those jobs are paid so badly. If all else fails people in class C & B can down-shift – while rocket scientists and Jeremy Paxman (an English graduate I believe) could get bar work if they had to, the converse does not hold.

    Secondly in most subject areas they are jobs in all three classes. E.g. in engineering there's simple assembly work (class D), plumber/electrician work (class C) and design work (class B). In sociology care assistants (class D), social workers (class C) and making government social policy (class B). No doubt the same goes for media studies – although there is some evidence that there are far too many people chasing too few jobs in the latter area, I read that graduates have to work unpaid as TV production assistants before they can hope to get a paid job in the mass media.

    Finally there is the divide between the academic and the practical. Most graduates of mathematics will make good engineers, but occasionally you get one who seems incapable of remembering which direction to tighten a bolt.

    P.S. 10% is enough graduates! – 50 years ago 2% was thought to be the limit. Warwick University was just fields.

    28 Mar 2006, 17:44

  14. James

    George, I'm not sure anything you wrote is inconsistent with what I said (nor that you intended it to be so). I think the consequences of this ill-thought out state intervention to wring degrees out of 50% of the population will simply be that larger numbers of unskilled jobs will be performed by people with degrees in lightweight subjects, who will start the job three years older and many thousands of pounds more in debt than they would have been otherwise.

    It's all very well stressing the importance of a skilled population but why does it have to be achieved by devaluing the concept of a university degree? Why have we lost sight of proven ways for people to learn trade skills (on the job) and the fact that not everyone is academically inclined? Do we really want professors to be taking on ever-increasing classes comprising ever-poorer students (in two senses)? Dealing with the anticipated mass of undergraduates will also be detrimental for post-graduate research, which was supposed to be the key distinction between a university and polytechnic.

    As I said, we'd be far better sorting out the problems of basic skills in the three 'r's' rather than engaging in this sort of folly.

    29 Mar 2006, 11:05

  15. James,

    I don't agree that certain subjects are intrinsically lightweight. Many subjects can be taught at different levels and while I do concede that there may be a issue with grade inflation, I don't think that is the biggest problem society has with the educational system.

    From my limited experience I'd say that the biggest problem is most people's narrow skill base. When courses are designed to be wide ranging the accusation of superficiality is raised. Thus a media studies student is accused, quite rightly, of being less knowledgeable about literature than an English student, less knowledgeable about databases than a computer science student and less knowledgable about images than a fine arts student. The fact that there are many real jobs which demand the commission, assembly, storage, retrieval and presentation of multimedia information seems lost on many critics.

    Perhaps we should be looking for two types of universities, the traditional specialist type and a type which tackles issues using a broader cross-disciplinary method. Perhaps we should be looking for more integration between work and study, lifelong learning?

    29 Mar 2006, 12:04

  16. "Perhaps we should be looking for two types of universities, the traditional specialist type and a type which tackles issues using a broader cross-disciplinary method. Perhaps we should be looking for more integration between work and study, lifelong learning?"

    You mean like universities and polytechnics? I agree with you in that no subject is intrinsically lightweight; it is merely the way the courses are written in order to attract the type and calibre of people that they do. I think we have to question whether universities are here to provide education for people to get jobs, or whether they are at least in part in existence to further people's learning and for postgraduate study and research (I believe undergraduate study has traditionally been a by-product of more senior academic research, and it's only in modern times that this has really been reversed. Correct if I'm wrong on this). I personally feel that more should be made of vocational courses, whilst keeping universities academically elitist and focused on specialism. I think with increasing breadth, you lose the depth that is necessary for a subject. For example, engineering (my course) these days contains much business and economics studies, which has been at the detriment of mathematics and physics (and still lacks sufficient tuition I think in the computer skills necessary to get along in the modern world of engineering). Specialism is not to be frowned upon, in many areas it's very much required.

    As an aside, with regards to the percentage figure I always thought it used to be around 30% of the population were academically capable of university education, but then not all of those people did (or indeed should) take that road.

    29 Mar 2006, 12:14

  17. James

    George, you're right about intrinsic worth of subjects, what I should have said was lightweight degrees, ie any subject taught to a poor standard (pitched to the middle of academic ability rather than the top 10%). I said subjects because in my day sociology, anthropology and education were laughed off as lightweight because of the stanadards of the departments. Nowadays media studies seems to carry that label. I think any subject is valuable if it involves rigorous academic inquiry, and developing communication and analytical skills. The classics are, dare I say it, the classic example. Aside from their intrinsic worth in spreading understanding of our heritage and culture (and the fact of knowledge being valuable for its own sake), employers know that students will have tackled something usually taught in a way that requires real intellectual merit.

    How about keeping traditional universities, calling the others polytechnics (and hoping they'll focus on the skills-based teaching that they traditionally did), and stop trying to get the illiterates of which Sarah rightly complained to spend three years of their lives racking up debts and hanging around student bars.

    29 Mar 2006, 12:21

  18. 1st Year History of Art

    My parents would come in at the very botton of C in the grading which you mentioned. I would never want to work in the same conditions as my parents and I would never try and encourage people to work in those areas. No one with any sense would ever try and get a job working on the factory shop floor!!

    To you I'm probably doing a 'Micky Mouse' degree – compared with mathematics and engineering I might even agree. But I don't like maths or physics – I'm interested in culture, in art, literature and history. I worked as hard as anyone else to get here – I am no less capable than an engineer, I have just chosen not to specialise in maths and physics. I have chosen to follow my heart and do what I want to do in life (unlike my Dad in particular who has spent his whole life in a factory because that is all he is trained to do and he had no transferable skills).

    We cannot turn the tables and go back to polytechnics – what's done is done. Likewise, you cannot get rid of all the subjects which don't require graphs and formulae (though Warwick is having a good go at it). People think differently, it doesn't necessarily make them less intelligent or less worthy of a degree – if we all thought the same way the world would be a very boring place.

    However, I agree that the standard of secondary education needs to be reviewed with less emphasis on the National Curriculum. Since coming to university it has really made me realise the difference in the quality of education between schools.

    29 Mar 2006, 13:13

  19. I see this question is causing much debate, good!

    What I really want to emphasize is this. A university degree should not be a requirement for the majority of jobs. There are many jobs that people would be better starting at 16 or 18 and learning how the skill of a given job.

    One might argue that this skill might not be transferable and might become useless in the future. This is true but if for example someone had done a job from the age of 16 to 21 and then changed career, at 21.,I believe when this person applies for a new job (one where a degree in a particular subject is not a requirement) and is applying against graduates, the fact that they have worked full time for 5 years means they have shown certain abilities that a graduate has not shown. Probably for many jobs both the graduates and non graduate are on an even playing field. Meanwhile the graduate has got into debt while the other person has been earning. Now if the graduate did not enjoy their degree, the whole academic process seems futile.

    I was at a brokers in the city (LONDON) and had lunch with one of their 17 year employees, he had been taken on at 16 after decent GCSEs, performed really well as a trainee, and was now in the first stages of a successful career in the financial sector. Despite this person dropping out of school after GCSEs his intelligence and ability to work the brokers had been shown after a year working as a trainee. That msut be as big an advantage as many degrees.

    I finish with a question, I believe that many schools appear emphasize the importance of degrees and refuse to give examples of people who have been successful by other routes. Maybe this was just at my school, but if it happens does it have something to do with league tables ????

    29 Mar 2006, 14:11

  20. James

    I assume you are referring to George's comment, since I specifically disavowed the claim that some subjects were intrinsically worthless.

    We can easily turn ex-polys back into polys, as simply as they were changed in the first place. I may be wrong, but on my understanding the change in status was only ever a name change; they weren't required to show that they had Oxbridge-standard research programmes.

    The point regarding your parents is an interesting one. Let us assume that they had in fact significant academic potential but because of financial aspects or other barriers they were not able to enter higher education and hence fulfill all their potential. That would be a loss for society as well as them, and it is a situation that we should try and avoid.

    But I don't think the answer is to create ever more courses in ever more places with ever decreasing standards. The answer is to maintain standards – I have suggested pitching degree courses for the top 10% of academic achievers only – but also increase opportunities for gifted people from underprivileged backgrounds to take such degrees; in other words, make sure that the 10% at university are the top 10% and not simply the wealthiest 10%. This means we have to sort out student funding – which if there were fewer students would be easier to solve. We have to increase the quality of teaching and discipline in the poorer state schools so the students can reach their potential. That too seems to me attainable by more stringent regimes in schools (I find it ironic that wealthy African and Afro-Carribbean parents are sending their children back to the Carribbean and to Africa to private schools there, which maintain the standards Britain introduced to them and forgot itself). There is a third aspect, however, and that is changing attitudes. Much has been made about snobbish attitudes of better schools and universities towards the working classes, although the situation now is undoubtedly better than a generation ago (notice the disgraceful pack of lies that Gordon Brown told about Laura Spence and Oxford – a straight attempt to stir up class warfare to propitiate the 'traditional Labour' types within his party, at the expense of a young girl and a great university). There are also entrenched attitudes amongst the working classes which oppose universities. I have an Oxford graduate friend who is from a rough ex-mining area of Wales who was disowned by a number of her family members because she went to Oxford. I am told that that sort of thing is not uncommon.

    29 Mar 2006, 14:18

  21. James

    For the second time I put up a post simultaneously with someone else. On the first occasion it meant Christopher and I both made the same point about universities and polytechnics, and on this occasion it means I have to post this hasty corrective to point out that in post 21 by "you" I am referring to 1st Year History of Art, not Benjamin. Still it's good to see that this topic is generating interest!

    29 Mar 2006, 14:21

  22. I can't help feeling that there's more than a trace of snobbery in this idea of restricting higher education to some sort of elite. Very nice for those who manage to get into the elite – their share of whatever resources are available is that much bigger. And once they have graduated they can cultivate a superior air to defend themselves from competition in their professional lives.

    Of course if Warwick were to focus on academic subjects it would have to drop vocational ones like law, business studies and engineering. Funny thing is that there's probably more social (that's societal in American) need for research in vocational subject areas than in the academic.

    Why not leave it to the individual to decide whether he/she wants to go to university? And what sort of course and what sort of university. After all the individual has to suffer the debts.

    29 Mar 2006, 15:20

  23. James

    George,

    (1) It is a fact, not elitism, that not everyone has the same academic ability. From that truism I and others suggest that Universities should pitch their level at the top 10%.

    (2) Much of my post 21 was concerned with saying that we need to reform the school system and university funding, as well as challenging entrenched attitudes, so as to ensure that those from working class backgrounds (to use some old fashioned terminology) have every chance to go to university if they have the ability and inclination, hence I am not at all saying that higher education should be the preserve of the wealthy. If it is the preserve of the intellectual elite, well that's the whole point.

    (3) Law is an academic subject, even if it wasn't considered such historically in this country (hence Oxbridge, where it was studied, entitled their undergraduate law degrees Bachelors in Civil Law, reflecting that they studied Roman law as an intellectual discipline). So is engineering, indeed even more so as it is pure knowledge and thus quintessentially a suitable university subject.

    (4) Who on earth would suggest it should be anyone other than the individual who decides whether someone goes to university and what to study? All I'm suggesting is that the standard should be set higher than the Blair government is implicitly suggesting by talking about admitting 50% of the population, and that barriers to entry should be removed.

    29 Mar 2006, 15:33

  24. 1st year history of art:

    "To you I'm probably doing a 'Micky Mouse' degree"

    We are not bemoaning the subject; rather the ease of which people of mediocre intelligence can pass degrees in these subjects to no real gain for the individual or for anyone else. That's not to say that this is limited to artistic subjects either – I think the standards in pretty much all courses are slipping.

    "We cannot turn the tables and go back to polytechnics"

    Why can't we? Labour is essentially beginning to go back on it's move many years ago to abolish grammar schools with the introduction of so-called "specialist schools" and introducing more choice for parents to choose which school their child goes to. It is only a matter of time before education across the board becomes academically streamed, and quite right too in my opinion.

    Ben:

    "What I really want to emphasize is this. A university degree should not be a requirement for the majority of jobs."

    Exactly! People are making a big noise in this thread about standards, breadth of education and transferrable skills. I agree these are good things for pretty much everyone to have; however they are not only learnable at university and devaluing a degree's academic worth in order to allow people of mediocre intelligence to learn these skills at university in a subject matter that is of little ultimate importance is, in my opinion, crass.

    In regards to post 23 by George, James has made pretty much all the points I was going to make. I would like to add my support in particular for James' point 3, in that by "academic subject" we mean one that requires a high intellect to tackle (such as engineering at university level). There may be an ultimate vocation in mind, and perhaps even some practical skill, but the fact remains that most people who are considered "engineers" in this country (in my opinion a bastardisation of the term; Nurses are very skilled at what they do but you don't call them doctors) would struggle to pass an engineering degree.

    29 Mar 2006, 17:26

  25. James,

    Well a lot depends on what comes into one's mind when the words elite, academic and vocational are banded about.

    In my rather uninformed opinion, I'd support some HE institutions focusing on the treatment of subjects in a theory-based manner while others took an approach which was more oriented to the application of knowledge. Within each group I suppose some institutions would establish enough of a reputation to be able to select the "pick of the crop" of prospective students. Individuals who found that they would only be accepted by the bottom rung of institutions would have to ask themselves whether it was worth sacrificing the time and money to attend. I suppose such institutions (or at least the worst performing departments thereof) would also have to ask themselves whether it was worthwhile to continue with Honours Degrees and instead "downshift" to teaching lower qualifications. Degrees are not the only form of Higher Education – see link

    I'm not convinced that only institutions which treat subjects in a theoretical manner should do research. Also is there a correlation between excellence in research and excellence in teaching?

    I just don't agree that the proportion of people who would benefit from some kind of education at a higher level than A level / NVQ level 5 is far below 50%.

    29 Mar 2006, 17:31

  26. "I just don't agree that the proportion of people who would benefit from some kind of education at a higher level than A level / NVQ level 5 is far below 50%."

    It's not only a question of benefit, but a question of need. Does the workplace really need almost 50% of people educated beyond A-Level/NVQ 5 standard before receiving on the job training? I don't think it does, and as such an excess of people gaining these qualifications is devaluing and wasteful of resource if we are looking at it solely on supply/demand of the job market. More and more jobs these days ask for a degree, I'd question whether that's really needed for the job or whether they are just asking as a way of differentiating candidates because there are so many more graduates these days.

    29 Mar 2006, 17:53

  27. After giving the matter some more thought I will admit that most employers will be very unimpressed by candidates who have spent the last few years wasting their time on a course they weren't learning much from. I suspect far too many younger people don't realise that.

    Perhaps the less academically inclined among that 50% should only enter higher education after having some real work experience or as part of some sort of part-time or sandwich course.

    29 Mar 2006, 20:05

  28. Julia Thompson

    Christopher, I'd like to take you to task about your comment "Most people who are considered engineers in this country (in my opinion a bastardisation of the term)". My husband is an engineer in his late forties and he has a degree in mathematics from Cambridge. He works for a very large British company and the majority of his colleagues went to Cambridge or other prestigious universities and have degrees in physics, maths or engineering. There are a few that he works with who have no degree but a HNC and he tells me that they are equally as skilled and valued as team members for their expertise.

    29 Mar 2006, 23:30

  29. Julia – apologies for commenting in a way that was open to such interpretation. I work daily with technicians who as you say are very skilled and valued. I have the utmost respect for their skills and they are capable of tasks I will never be able to do, although I enjoy dabbling and trying my hand at it. However, these skills are fundamentally different to the skills of an engineer, who is usually based heavily in advanced theory and physics, as your husband evidently is. In the UK we have a tendency to use the term engineer very widely, for example the guy that comes and installs your boiler is a "heating engineer". In the true sense of the term, he isn't an engineer at all. In the same way that you wouldn't call a nurse a doctor, technicians are not engineers, and in other countries (e.g. Germany) this is so. This is not to say in the medical profession for example that the value of a nurse is less, or that they are in any way unskilled. But the term engineer should truly mean a professional person with a degree and an in-depth theory background.

    30 Mar 2006, 00:07

  30. James

    George,

    You wrote: "I just don't agree that the proportion of people who would benefit from some kind of education at a higher level than A level / NVQ level 5 is far below 50%."

    That's not what I was saying at all. What I was talking about was the definition of a university, and what sort of institution should be permitted to use the term in its title. I see nothing wrong with the old system, whereby 'technical' subjects which gave specific grounding for particular careers, such as nursing, book keeping, draftsmanship etc were taught at institutions called polytechnics and resulted in diplomas, whereas more theoretical subjects such as classics were taught at universities (to a high intellectual standard). So too were technically grounded subjects such as medicine, accounting and engineering, but at universities they were taught to a higher standard involving more research and theory than at polytechnics, as well as at post-graduate level.

    My grandfather was a university trained engineer, very successful in his field (old fashioned engineering, if you will; he designed things like fridges) and was for years on the board of a technical college, having the highest regard for such institutions and the value of their work, but still recognising the distinction from universities. To me that system just made so much more sense, along with the fact that you had recognised apprenticeships (yes, if such things mattered, those were third on the rung in terms of academic snobbery) for things such as carpentry and car mechanics. Nowadays we must devise university courses for all and, as George concedes later, potentially have people faffing around for three years when their aptitudes might be more suited to some sort of on the job training.

    30 Mar 2006, 10:26

  31. A couple of random comments:

    George (re comment 14): THANK YOU for recognising that Sociology is actually quite an important subject and doesn't just create social workers, but also produces much of the underlying research upon which some pretty vital government policies are based!

    James (re comment 15): Not only does a degree give people a hell of a lot of debt, but also what often turn out to be unrealised dreams and aspirations. At the end of the day, someone does have to be a toilet cleaner, and a bin man, and a factory worker. Sending half the population to university simply creates the delusion that everyone can go off and do some great well-paying job, but they can't. Sad but true.

    30 Mar 2006, 16:11

  32. James Black

    I think the important thing is that when people are 16 they try to pursue their dreams. These dreams ought to be realistic, and if they are not realistic they should be made aware of it so they can prepare themselves for disappointment. The problem with the current system is, as Eleanor implied, was that it does not do this. Hundreds of thousands of mediocre students pour into university every year dreaming that great dream- to be a rich investment banker, to work for a fashionable PR firm, to be an artist or a writer or whatever. But the problem is that the vast majority of these people realise, pretty much instantly after they leave university, that the dream will never happen. I think this is a tragedy. The prime time of your life is 16–21. However the current system encourages people to learn useless skills, dream unrealistic dreams, and waste the best years of their life in the library. The current system is not just inefficient but rather its positively harmful. Mediocre students would do best by going into the real world, learn necessary skills of how to prosper in it (like how to talk to people who are not: Young, White, Middle Class, and of a Academic nature), and not dream unrealistic dreams which will just result in, once they are not realised, being emotionally stunted, afraid to dream again out of fear of being hurt and lacking in confidence in your own abilities.

    However Iím only taking about a very specific type of mediocre student, the one who is motivated and interested in his or her subject but dreams too high and is pre-destined for failure and disappointment. There are plenty of other ones, like students who just drift into university and are not interested in their subject.

    30 Mar 2006, 20:28

  33. Sarah

    If we just take in students from the top 10% of the country wont schools in poorer areas which (tend to) have poorer results fall by the wayside? The universities would surely fill with students from selective grammar and private schools? I'm not saying that this is because their students are more clever but because they do tend to achieve the highest results. I can only imagine that 10% could just add to the elitism.

    Thinking about it, only 13% of my year group at school have gone to university – is this magical 50% not an unrealistic target anyway? Or, thinking about it some more – I think maybe I just can't imagine 50% of my particular school ever wanting, let alone managing, to get into university – maybe this lack of imagination is why it doesn't really bother me.

    31 Mar 2006, 01:17

  34. Sarah – if we are not to judge by adacemic ability/achievement, how else do we sort admissions for universities? Do you think that quotas are a good idea, or that we should have lower requirements for under-achieving state schools? Regardless of potential, those who try and yet under-achieve at A-Level will not have sufficient grounding to undertake a high standard academic degree; they will find themselves behind others at the start of the degree despite possibly being on an equal footing in terms of potential. We should look at improving failing schools to standards of the private sector, not lowering admissions requirements and therefore standards of undergraduates at university.

    31 Mar 2006, 08:35

  35. Lower entrance requirements for candidates from under-achieving schools are a good idea. It won't be true in every case but generally someone who achieves a certain result in a poor environment will perform better at university than another person with the same result who has been give every opportunity and encouragement to perform well.

    31 Mar 2006, 09:05

  36. Helen

    I agree with George that lower entrance requirements for candidates from under achieving schools is a good idea. For example, it is quite well known that universities considering applicants are aware that a student from a Comprehensive school who has straight A's at 'A' level will invariably achieve better results at degree level than a student from a private school with the same results. This is due to the fact that the private school student has generally received considerably more input i.e.much smaller class sizes and thus individual attention.

    31 Mar 2006, 09:44

  37. James

    The last few threads seem to be arguing that the top 10% of grade achievers won't necessarily be the top 10% academic best, because of the variation in the quality of secondary schools. The answer seems to me, as I said earlier on this post, to improve the quality of secondary teaching and remove some of the other barriers to higher education, not just dumb down degrees. Tinkering with the admissions process so as to create bias in favour of low achieving schools also seems the wrong way to go about it – why not try and improve those schools to begin with.

    Sarah writes that "only 13% of my year group at school have gone to university" – presumably you mean final year (sorry I'm not up on the terminology here), so that others in your age group would have dropped out along the way.

    31 Mar 2006, 09:54

  38. Why not improve low achieving schools?

    Why not have flying pigs?

    The problem of low achieving schools is mostly do with what they have to deal with, not the schools themselves. Disruptive emotionally disturbed kids, pupils with low self-esteem, possibly even a culture with considers academic achievement uncool/nerdy (I'm not sure that's not a problem in other castes/classes as well).

    31 Mar 2006, 10:22

  39. We currently have a university system that claims to give admittance based on academic potential, to do this it clearly has to recognise that it is possible for a kid in a class of 10 at a private school may well get an A where if the same kid were at a failing school doing the same amount of work he would have got a B, this does not affect his academic potential.

    On the more specific issue of numbers, the following statistic is i think relevant. 80% of those from the richest 20% of society go to university, whereas only 20% from the poorest 20% of society do. Assuming that we're not going to degenerate into arguments such as 'poor people are on the whole stupid', it follows that we can get 50% of people into university without 'dumbing down', indeed we can aspire to having a system where 50% of people go to university and the academic quality of the average student is greatly increased.

    31 Mar 2006, 12:28

  40. I disagree profoundly that lower requirements from poor schools are a good idea. Why is it a good idea to put a group of people with differing academic ability at that point (note the difference between ability – what you can do at the time and potential – what you are capable of. A student with an A is more able than a student with a B, although they perhaps have the same potential and so would both have A's or B's if the student had been educated with the other's educational experience). Far better to improve the standard of education for state schools. If it's not due to the school but the problems of the kids outside of school life, address the cultural problem or place a support network to allow them to develop and better their background. Admitting under-achieved disruptive people to a demanding university degree is a recipe for disaster.

    31 Mar 2006, 13:18

  41. James Black

    Tom, I donít really understand your argument. Are you saying that the people in the top (lets say) 40% of the poorest 20% of people equally as intelligent as the top 40% of the richest 20% of people? You seem to be saying that all classes (upper, middle, working) are of equal intelligence generally and hence a person in the top 20% of the working class are going to be smarter then somebody only ranked halfway in the upper class. If you are really saying this, then you are talking out of your arse.

    Rich people are generally more intelligent then poor people, thatís why they are rich. Iím not saying its genetic, its not, but it is cultural. By the time we are 18 who we are is pretty much determined (indeed Fraud would have placed the figure at just 8). And the fact of the matter is that if for 18 years of your life you were brought up in an upper class family you are much more likely to be, and remain to be, vastly more academically intelligent then somebody brought up in a working class family. The basic reason for this is a combination of a strong work ethic and plenty of support to nurture your intelligence. The basic result being that, academically speaking, by the age of 18 rich kids are much more intelligent then poor kids and its futile to try and change it.

    Therefore, Tom, your argument is flawed. Trying to get 50% of the working class into university will devalue the value of a degree because they do not have the academic ability to do it.

    31 Mar 2006, 13:22

  42. Helen

    Christopher, of course I agree that the standard of education in state schools should be improved. I also think that until there is a significant improvement in under achieving schools some of the students in those schools who have the potential should be given just that little extra chance to go to university. Let's face it, they have drawn the short straw by having to go to these schools in the first place. Surely it's only fair to give them a bit of a bolster because they got off to a bad start.

    Having said that, I do not agree with Tony Blair's idea that 50% of the population should get a degree for the same reasons stated by James.

    31 Mar 2006, 14:20

  43. James

    George wrote

    "Why not improve low achieving schools?

    Why not have flying pigs?"

    Oh please. I went to a school with a fair amount of low achievers (it would be called a state comp over here, I gather). The idiot idealistic head for years dumbed it down by removing discipline and omitting to mention academic achievement when telling us what the school was about. So the thugs began to rule the classroom as well as the playground, and the good teachers started leaving. After the head left and a new one came in, introduced a tough line on all kinds of things from bullying to uniform standards to classroom discipline, and set about introducing a culture of achievement, standards indeed raised and they started attracting a much better calibre of teachers.

    "The problem of low achieving schools is … Disruptive emotionally disturbed kids, pupils with low self-esteem, possibly even a culture with considers academic achievement uncool/nerdy". Well sure, but can't the schools do something about this? Seems a better bet than chucking in the towel and just compelling universities to admit the low achievers that such deadbeat schools churn out. Even if you do, standards of the three 'r's' for many school leavers are so low that even the best students from the low achieving schools will really struggle if admitted to universities. So for their sake reform of low achieving schools would be far more advantageous than giving them an easy admittance into university. It's just too late leaving it for the universities to sort out substandard education anyway.

    And as my namesake Mr Black points out, material wealth and academic achievement might just be different manifestations of the same aptitudes.

    31 Mar 2006, 14:28

  44. Re post 41. So its fair that person A, with poorer results than person B, who would nevertheless do just as well as person B if given the right chances should be excluded?

    Re post 42. "Rich people are generally more intelligent then poor people". Unlike wealth, intelligence isn't inherited. Prince Charles' ancient forbears may have pretty slick gangsters (how else do you get into the monarchy?), but there's always the reversion to the mean. Compare George Bush & George W Bush. The children of the rich realize that they would do rather badly in a fair competition so try to rig the game.

    31 Mar 2006, 15:57

  45. George – in simple answer to your question, I believe it to be more fair than having to drive down university standards because a reduction in ability is present. At the end of the day, a grade in an A-Level is a grade in an A-Level. It should mean the same thing regardless of who has taken it and what background they are from. And not all children of the right inherited poor intelligence – many reasonably wealthy families are so because the parents are intelligent and have built a good career for themselves, and intelligence is something I believe is genetically passed on from parent to child as a general rule. Although this is not a universal rule of thumb, we should not be surprised to see more people from well off backgrounds in university than poor ones. Not all wealthy people are unscrupulous cheaters who will do anything underhand and abuse their positions of power to keep it that way, although I'm not going to deny that such people exist. I don't condone it however!

    31 Mar 2006, 16:23

  46. James Black

    George, I didnt say intelligence was inherited in rich families but rather I said that academic intelligence, which I believe is the only important measure as far as the university is concerned, is nurtured far better in rich families then in poor ones.

    Anyway, I have just been reading a journal article on the Japanese firm and I have just discovered an interesting point. The reason that the Japanese were doing so well in the 70s and 80s was because of communication between the bosses and the shop floor. But to do this they needed highly qualified and diligent blue collar workers. In the old days they were plenty in supply because few people in the working class went to university. However now these people are going to university. Hence now we are increasing having fewer and fewer of these diligent workers on the shop floor to communicate with. The result being an ever increasing strong hierarchy in the firm and hence less communication between the shop floor and the managers, thus resulting in poorer economic performance.

    31 Mar 2006, 16:42

  47. Post 46. Come off it! The suggestion was not to let in people with a couple of grade E/D passes in preference to those with 5 A's. It was always only a case of marginal differences. And the end results vindicated the action. On average a student with any particular set of A level grades from a public school performs worse at university than student with the same grades from a state school.

    That issue is quite different from the issue of grade inflation.

    As for post 47. Where are the children of the highly qualified and diligent blue collar 1970/80's workers? Perhaps in new industries which can use their skills? Sounds like a case of companies falling by the wayside because they can't attract skilled enough staff. Anyone who believes in the Free Market as a way of increasing efficiency would say such companies deserve to die.

    31 Mar 2006, 17:05

  48. Helen

    Christopher, I don't think anyone was suggesting changing the 'A' level grading system to accommodate students from less privileged backgrounds. I was thinking more along the lines of considering those people at one grade lower, for example. If a student from a school where disruption reigns in the classroom can achieve reasonable 'A' level results despite this environment I am sure they would thrive at university where there is a strong work ethic and people are committed to learning. Why not give them that chance?

    31 Mar 2006, 17:40

  49. I would just like to point out that people have drifted slightly away from my initial comment, i guess this is fine because it allows the debate to keep going
    I must say though I don't see where the class debate comes into this. For a start I am surprised that so many people are making such sweeping generalisations about how peoples background effect their intelligence, it is alright to have you opinion but sometimes, on such sensitive issues, these opinions are being put across too much as if they are fact.

    Can I just add that the academic abilities of those are able to get into university was never in my argument. My worry is people are going to university when they would be better off going into the wrold of work for themselves and for society. If they genuinely have a passion and ability for studying beyond school then they should do this.

    31 Mar 2006, 22:28

  50. Roger

    OK, (try and get back on topic…............)
    More people need to go to University these days simply because jobs for unqualified/untrained people are disappearing fast. A bloke I used to work with told me that back in the 60s in Coventry, if you didn't like your job you could leave on the friday and start another one on monday.
    For better or worse, our manufacturing industries, which were our main employers in the 20th century, were decimated during the time of "Mrs Fatch" and don't look like they'll ever recover, simply because the Chinese are going to be able to make everything cheaper than us for the foreseeable future.
    Britain makes its money these days in service industries like banking, insurance, tourism and (dare I say it) education. Most of the good jobs in service industries need highly qualified personnel.
    Companies in general seem to have abdicated their responsiblity towards training. How many times have you heard "employers want people with experience, but how am I going to get any experience if nobody gives me a job?" or even "by the time I'd managed to show him/her how to do it, I could have done it myself….".
    Meanwhile nursing has gone from hospital-based, mostly practical training to university-based, mostly theoretical, and I wonder if other, similarly hands-on professions will do the same in future. BSc in Applied Carpentry, anyone?

    04 Apr 2006, 16:44

  51. Benjamin Wolfe (comment 50) wrote:

    I must say though I don't see where the class debate comes into this.

    It comes in because the government, rightly or wrongly, defines people's class by their occupation. See link

    What sort of occupation a person gets into largely depends on what level of education they have had.

    05 Apr 2006, 11:35

  52. Missing bit from my post 52:

    What sort of education a person has depends on what educational opportunities are available.

    So
    More Educational Opportunities —> More Educated People —-> Vacancies in more skilled occupations can be filled

    05 Apr 2006, 15:06

  53. Your logic in post #53 doesn't hold George. The graduate market is already heavily saturated; I know of very few fellow finalists who aren't struggling to find a job requiring graduates. Increasing numbers at university will only increase an already over-populated mass of graduates with lots of debt and no good job to pay them off. There is a limit to the amount of good jobs that are going round, pure and simple.

    05 Apr 2006, 17:15

  54. People need to be educated in the right way. I do suspect that a lot of people should take care that their post A-level education is firmly connected to practical issues (which is not an euphemism for being dumbed down). And realise that taking a postgraduate degree straight after completion of an undergraduate degree is highly risky except for those who are very keen on an academic career.

    Being at school or college for an un-interrupted 20 years is taking a bit of a risk.

    I practice what I preach – 13 years primary/secondary school, 1 year working/travelling, 3 years BSc, 5 years professional occupation, 1 year MSc, 17 years professional occupation, then a BA in a different faculty.

    05 Apr 2006, 19:10

  55. George – most of my contacts are doing very practical/useful degrees that are supposedly "in decline" with graduates "in demand". Yet none of us seem to be able to find jobs that allow us to use our degree. Few, if any, of us are looking to do postgraduate study or already have any form of postgraduate qualification.

    05 Apr 2006, 19:20

  56. Chris, I thought I was supposed to be the representative of the hard left who feels that the current society is a load of dysfunctional crap. I'll give up trying to defend it.

    05 Apr 2006, 20:13

  57. So how do you feel we should change, other than by increasing the numbers in further education? With increased numbers in jobs requiring higher academic qualifications, who will be left to clean the streets, build our homes, drive our taxis etc? And in a hard left approach, where does the funding for all the vastly expensive further education come from? Uncompetitive industrial and service sectors?

    05 Apr 2006, 22:22

  58. Christopher Rossdale

    Jumping in a bit late –

    Dunlop have just had to fire 500 workers and close down their UK factory, because, they say, they cannot compete with east asian and chinese factories. Globalisation is slowly choking the British workforce – without more people going to university and to the Class B workforce, surely the only other option is a massive reduction in living standards for the British working classes?

    06 Apr 2006, 01:16

  59. But Chris – what other jobs are there available! As I keep repeating, the idea that there are more opportunities than there are graduates is a complete myth.

    06 Apr 2006, 09:11

  60. The idea that the U.K. survive economically as long as the lower classes are cheerfully prepared to stick with the same jobs as their parents is absurd.

    There's millions of hard working poorly educated people in the world who are taking away the low skilled jobs. From the viewpoint of a Chinese or Indian peasant £5 a week is hitting the big time. There's no point in trying to compete with them.

    I sometimes suspect that the real reason behind the opposition to the extension of Higher Education from the Snob Party (aka Conservative Party) lies in the fear that a public school education just does not give a lifelong guarantee that competition from less privileged backgrounds will be kept out. If access to higher education is restricted, the select few will have an easy life. How they will cope with competition from abroad is something they don't want to think about.

    06 Apr 2006, 09:33

  61. Also link shows that 6 months after graduating more ex-students have graduate level jobs than are unemployed or in lower classes of job.

    One of the problems is that too many employers don't realise how better their employees would perform if they were better educated.

    06 Apr 2006, 09:38

  62. Ok George, so there's plenty of people there to fill the lower skilled jobs, if we are prepared to put up with CBI figures for "required" economic migrants every year to sustain the UK economy (I believe this is in 6 figures, although correct me if I'm wrong. I recall a figure of about 130,000 being banded around during the election campaign which focussed on immigration as one of the main areas of policy debate). Assuming of course we can accept a sustainable influx of labour into the UK (which I doubt, considering we're an already heavily crowded and overpopulated small island, but that's for another place and another time), where are all these upwardly mobile intelligent new graduates going to go job-wise? The link that you gave supplies a mere 6% in unemployment, but looking at the breakdown we see 3.4% numerical clerks and cashiers, 12.3% other clerical and secretarial occupations, 8.7% retail, catering, waiting and other bar staff, and 12.3% "other occupations" (which don't come under "other professionals"). Now by my maths that's over 36% of the employed graduates. The less skilled occupations are toward the right on that diagram – notice how only health professionals outrank these categories and only the managers category comes even close to the figures in the low skilled jobs section. I'm not saying that graduates are unemployable; rather that there simply aren't enough professional jobs to go round and accept an increase in graduates. If we have over a third of graduates wasting their talents in low skilled occupations, it suggests to me that we're already at saturation point here. How are all of these people going to pay off their debts for university education on lower salaried jobs? How is it benefiting them to leave university in an overpopulated job market?

    Note, I'm not arguing the case for protectionism of the wealthy, as you suggest (although I do happen to be a Conservative from a reasonably well off background, and I'm not about to hide that fact). I believe education should be academically exclusive and elitist. By all means let people from all backgrounds have an equal chance of coming to university, I'm all for that. But that academic demand on students should be higher than it is now, not much lower. We should be discussing higher education with a view to holding student numbers as they are, not increasing them to 50%.

    06 Apr 2006, 13:21

  63. Sarah

    James –
    "13% of my year group at school have gone to university" Ė presumably you mean final year"

    I mean 13% of my year group sonce Yr.7 if that makes sense?
    It's roughly 25 people of the 180 (that were in my year group until yr.11) that went to uni. I can't ever imagine any more than that ever getting to uni. I don't know what people are worried about.

    ———————
    I know a few people at Warwick who went to schools where everyone achieved 5As and their whole year group is in a top 10 institution – for those people the world's not like that!! Don't worry about it!! – I don't think we're realistically going to see 50% of young people in university any time soon – and I doubt Labour will be in power that much longer and who will enforce this target then?

    Don't worry – the poor kids aren't going to harm your reputations just yet.

    06 Apr 2006, 13:48

  64. Here are the numbers from Prospects.ac.uk (link)

    Things look ok for graduates over 26, especially as 33% of the GCE A-level people are in graduate jobs.

    It would be useful to know the proportion of each age group in the categories "Degree or equivalent" and "GCE A-level or equivalent".

    It seems reasonable to me to assume, at least by the age of 30, the number of non-graduates in graduate occupations exceeds the number of graduates in non-graduate jobs.

    Perhaps there is a case for freezing the proportion of people going to university until is certain that the trend for the number of graduate opportunities to exceed the number of graduates is continuing. Perhaps that's part of the reasoning for the increase in student fees?

    06 Apr 2006, 15:46

  65. James

    I don't know why this point keeps on having to be made, but George on his devoted socialist crusade will doubtless remain oblivious.

    What I and many others are saying is that University standards should be so high that only about 10% of the population can obtain them. That should be the 10% brightest, not richest, so we all agree, for example, that inadequate schools should be shaken up and funding available for bright students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds can still go.

    Higher education would still be available as used to be the case in the form of technical colleges who would issue diplomas. If we call anything and everything a degree, then degrees will be seen as a joke, as my comment which was reproduced as the very start of this blog stated.

    06 Apr 2006, 16:28

  66. George – I was going on statistics from "6 months after graduating", I hadn't found the ones you published above. They make interesting reading I will say, although I don't see why graduates aren't in graduate occupations to begin with! Certainly 64% as a figure in my opinion is too low and why this figure is that low needs to be addressed. Also, your statistics show that a degree is not necessarily a prerequisite for what is deemed a "graduate occupation" – ability and experience in the job appear to be a good substitute. If this is the case, is the expenditure of resource on a degree really worthwhile for quite so many people? I just don't see the point of it, when so many "non-graduates" are apparently doing "graduate occupations" just fine.

    06 Apr 2006, 17:47

  67. Christopher Rossdale

    The 64% surely doesn't include those doing further study? That's gotta be a fair chunk of those under 25?

    06 Apr 2006, 18:45

  68. I belive that 64% is 64% of those employed Chris. If you look at the table, 64% + 36% gives 100% of graduates. This chart shows statistics for the 2004 graduate scene, where we can see only 61% of students in the "In UK employment category". The 6.3% that took studying for a higher degree in the UK as their option (and 2.8% who did a PGCE) are not included in the employment statistics.

    06 Apr 2006, 19:38

  69. Would the non-graduates doing the graduate jobs be better if they had been to university?

    There are aspects to a university education which are useful to the student but don't have much of an impact on job prospects. I, for example, have little interest in getting paid work. I'm at Warwick partly for the intrinsic benefit and partly because I find it helps me to understand the world and myself better.

    Isn't flaky motivation from students who are only at university to improve their job prospects more of a problem than some people not being as smart as others?

    Are any students suffering at Warwick because their course is too undemanding?

    06 Apr 2006, 20:01

  70. George – With regards to your first question, who knows! I personally can see benefits both to having experience of a degree, but also to more work experience at an earlier age and not allowing academic stuff to get in the way of an able mind learning a profession in a more vocational manner. If there are any statistics that shed light on this question, I'm not aware of them.

    The things of which you discuss university is good for – well it's a little bit swings and roundabouts. I don't know that I understand the world or myself an awful lot better than if I hadn't come here – moreover, I can't make that call because I can't have done both. But you learn about yourself and the world through life experience; you get a more closed but down to earth growth outside of the university bubble I think. On balance of the people I know my own age, there is a distinct feature of university that might make one more aware of things on a global scale, but at the same time more naieve and losing touch with day to day living in their home country, simply because they have less experience of it. In any case, these benefits or otherwise that university gives to students are a big drain resource-wise when you consider that you have to take three or more whole years of your working life off to study, which costs and is resource intensive.

    I can't answer your question on flaky motivation. I don't encounter a great deal of it on my course; but then I'm a very enthusiastic and motivated student and I suspect that subconciously I surround myself with likeminded people. I don't support the idea of people coming to university disinterested in their subject though; I believe that students should come here because they want to. Another reason, in my opinion, for not setting arbitrary targets for numbers of people who come to university. It should be a natural process, not something forced by the state.

    As to the undemanding question; well I don't know. I do generally find my less demanding modules to be the least interesting, and a lack of interest for me means I suffer motivationally and therefore my grades in these subjects tend to slip. Especially in modules which are not core to my subject in the name of breadth and widening awareness, I find motivation a real challenge. Breadth does seem to correllate with a reduced academic demand on the student. I would certainly like to be more challenged in some subject areas than I have been.

    06 Apr 2006, 20:32

  71. Michael Jones

    "Most graduates of mathematics will make good engineers, but occasionally you get one who seems incapable of remembering which direction to tighten a bolt."

    Oh good, I'm not the only one!

    13 Apr 2006, 01:32

  72. I really really hate that argument about university numbers and fees that says people get "life experience". Most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I was having this conversation with a mate's left-leaning parents not so long ago, and I was saying I didn't like the idea of public money financing a 'media studies' course at some backstreet place because some kid doesn't want to really do anything else, and they're like "so you're saying university education should be just for those that are intelligent?" and I said yes, and I don't see a problem with that. If something's going to be state-funded, I want it to be worthwhile to the state, to the nation. People watching tv shows, socialising with friends and fucking as many girls as they can is not beneficial to the nation. There's way too many people at university as it is.
    "Life experience". Oh please. I could go down the road and spend three years dealing crack and frequenting prostitutes. That's a "life experience". And I didn't need a state subsidy to do it.
    Sigournay is, once again, correct on higher education.

    14 Apr 2006, 13:23


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