We are equal opportunity snarkists around here

There are many plans for making the world better. Some of them stemming even from lived experience of the real world.

Maybe we should go back to the good old days with less than 5% of the cohort going to university. But I’m not a reactionary, oh no. I wouldn’t insist on Latin for admission. I would insist on a decent standard in maths though, and at least one modern language that is not the applicant’s mother tongue.

A spot of science too? One argument would say “settle for physics”. Another argument would say that a bright boy – or girl – could teach himself much of physics from books, but to learn some chemistry you really need to do some lab, therefore demand chemistry for admissions. A finely-balanced argument I’d say. Views sought on biology.

That one might betray, ever such a tad, some of that experience. Say, the lived wisdom of having taught chemistry at a very selective university which used to demand Latin as an entry requirement?

I wouldn’t want to say myself….

43 comments on “We are equal opportunity snarkists around here

  1. The USA has more people going to university, and it’s economy does well.
    Why on earth should we dumb down society, and have less people going to university?
    Who does that benefit?
    Also university education should be free, and paid for by taxes.
    The more educated a society is, the wealthier in soul and pocket it will be.
    The more educated people the better.
    Also help should be given to women who go to university to have more children.
    People should be educated for free up to the level they can reach.

  2. So the basic plan is do some mixed liberal arts before university? Given that that’s common in the US, the land of overinflated university fees, how is that going to fix things?

    It’s the kind of spread that’s not squeezable into 2 years of sixth-form as run in the UK. Done in other countries, like Germany, where education quality, certainly at the universities, doesn’t begin to approach what Oxbridge/Russel Group provide.

  3. Tony, I think we have society set up to do things in the wrong order. You should have your kids at 15 and you can still go to college at 25. Far the wiser for it.

  4. Why on earth should we dumb down society, and have less people going to university?

    Fewer.

    I like dearieme’s approach because it leads to a fundamental and overdue question: what is higher education for?

    If it’s intended to reduce native British birthrates, create jobs for hordes of useless lecturers, inculcate teenagers with safe space snowflakery, keep unemployment figures down in the short term and provide another massive pipeline for immigration, it’s working a treat.

    If it’s meant to sustain our scientific and technical establishment, add significant value to the career prospects of most graduates, and help regenerate Western civilisation through the transmission of knowledge, it’s a bigger disaster than letting Jimmy Savile babysit.

  5. “Who does that benefit?”

    Everyone. The taxpayer, and most especially the poor kid who studied a subject with a negative net present value.

    Nobody, but nobody at all benefits from studying a subject that leaves the student worse off on the job front than if they’d not gone to university.

  6. I see there’s talk of not letting kids with 3Ds have student loans. To which the correct response should be: wtf, who thought it would be a good idea to let them have the loans and waste 3 years in the first place?

    That’s the level of financial dereliction of duty that led to the issuing of sub prime mortgages and NINJA loans and eventual financial crash.

    Those kids ought to be able to sue the student company and universities.

  7. dearieme left off the requirement for an ‘O’ level in English: in my time everyone had to have at least one ‘O’ level in English and STEM students had to pass a “Use of English” exam on top – even if we already had *two* English ‘O’ levels – while Arts students only had to pass it if the had *no* English ‘O’ level..
    So he isn’t a reactionary.

  8. Tony not Blair has got the cart pulling the horse. The USA has got more people going to university because it is rich, not vice versa.
    And who says getting rid of mickey mouse courses is dumbing down? I reckon mickey mouse courses *are* dumbing down.

  9. The USA has got more people going to university because it is rich, not vice versa.

    Not to mention, there’s yuge unhappiness about HE in the USA. It’s a source of much social discontent, with lots of kids getting into debt so they can become baristas at Starbucks.

    If Yank universities were making America “wealthier in soul and pocket”, the little darlings wouldn’t be agitating for Bernie Sanders, would they?

  10. What you people who went to university don’t always understand that whatever you do between 18 and 21 it’s a steep learning curve. You get one menu of stuff at uni and another out in the world of work. If you have the capability you’ll do well whichever.

    (Rhoda, went to Imperial at 17, left after one year, joined the army…seen both sides, realised it makes little difference.)

  11. “I like dearieme’s approach because it leads to a fundamental and overdue question: what is higher education for?”

    Bizarrely, it’s expanded at the same time that books and certain sorts of equipment have gotten cheaper.

    Like, one benefit of going to film school was that you got access to cameras and editing equipment. You could make a student film and show it to film and TV people. But the equipment to make a student film is less than a grand today. You can stick it on YouTube. So other than that, you get the expertise of lecturers. But why bother when there’s online video courses by Scorsese, Ron Howard, Werner Herzog and David Mamet for £100? You’re not going to get the director of Goodfellas at Tipton poly.

  12. @john 77

    in my day (entrance exam in 7th term, single sex colleges, age of steam etc.) we all took Use of English before sitting ‘A’-levels, irrespective of the school (in my case modern languages) for which we subsequently applied.

  13. When I went in the 1980s, O level English and Maths was a requirement – but it was also a requirement to get into 6th Form, so everybody had it. The “use of english” test was the personal statement on the UCCA form.

  14. Fascinating. As an outsider*, can’t for the life of me understand why universities in the first place. Medieval institution should have been put out to grass after the printing press got invented.
    1) They’re an enormous waste of potential talent. Few people really know what they’re capable of & best suited to without some experience. So why choose your future before you know what your future might be?
    2)The concept of students in a miscellany of subjects gathering together in one place belongs to the C15th, when there were only 4. & it was possible to learn all of them. Good physics doesn’t require dreaming spires. An industrial estate on the Reading by-pass would serve as well. If students need to gather together at all. Why? And if they do, I’m sure they can sort it out for themselves. If they can’t, maybe they really are better suited to burger flipping.
    3)The universities & the degree system is the last refuge of the medieval guild system. It doesn’t disseminate knowledge. It gatekeepers knowledge. Creates a monopoly.

    *My sole experience of credentialisation. Stock Exchange exams. I’ve vague memories of attending a class an afternoon or two a week.Must have been at some outshoot of City U. Reading a lot of books. I can even remember some of the contents. One didn’t make a lifestyle of studentry. One was expected to fit it in with what they paying you for.
    Uncredentialised, I’ve acquired more than enough for a degree in one subject & enough bits in others to be worth two or three more.

  15. @ TMB
    Your school’s Headmaster may have thought it was better to be non-discriminatory, but I was told “Use of English” was only required for those wanting to take Maths or Science. We were not suspected so much of being illiterate as of being unable to communicate with “normal” human beings (that was, to some degree, true in my case, but the exam did little to test that – as far as I could see the marks depended on whether the examiner agreed with your opinions).
    Pendantically Age of Steam was in our childhood (I can say “our” because those two years older than I didn’t have to take “Use Of English” so you are dated to be either younger or not much older).

  16. bloke in Spain,

    I’m not sure they even gatekeep knowledge. There’s tons of physics and maths on the internet. They’re a gatekeeper to credentials.

    I say to computer science people that if you can find a way to get credentials in computer science that aren’t a degree, do it. Learn to program, then swot up on an MCSD then take the exam. Then get a job programming. Minimum wage if you have to. You’ll learn far more building software with experienced staff for 2 years than with lecturers who never left university.

  17. Tony Very Much Blair–Cockrot..

    Attending Uni and being indoctrinated by Marxist scum is not any sort of education.

    Bring back the old system. Smart enough to benefit from a science education? Grant money given from taxes. Science and useful practical topics ONLY. Humanities at Unis=Marxist shite. No grants or loans for leftist crap and all leftist scum purged from Unis and schools in general.

    Job done.

  18. BoM4

    I’m a programmer and have run a software company for years before deciding there was more to life and getting a 9-5 and I have no formal qualifications in it other than a “C” at A level…

    I somehow find myself in the position of every team wanting me to be involved and give advice on their projects… I would say any formal qualification is worth less than experience (of which I have over 20 years)…

  19. @Mr Ecks
    There’s little doubt Marxism, several other -isms & most of socialism would have died on the vine years ago if it wasn’t for universities nurturing them. They wouldn’t survive the reality check of people actually having to earn a the price of a crust rather than sit on their pampered intellectual backsides discussing how many revolutionary Trots can dance on the back of a worker.

  20. “Another argument would say that a bright boy – or girl – could teach himself much of physics from books, but to learn some chemistry you really need to do some lab . . .”

    And I would say that really depends on the level of chemistry you expect those just entering university to have.

    IME, a bright boy can teach himself enough basic chemistry to pass an admissions exam and then some – without ever touching a retort.

  21. “Tony Not Blair
    December 18, 2018 at 11:30 am

    The USA has more people going to university, and it’s economy does well.”

    Despite, not because. University costs impoverish a good chunk of the people because they’re taking courses that have no economic payoff.

    “Why on earth should we dumb down society, and have less people going to university?
    The more educated a society is, the wealthier in soul and pocket it will be.
    The more educated people the better.”

    That’s a whole lotta assumptions there that aren’t supported by evidence.

    “People should be educated for free up to the level they can reach.”

    They used to be – now they’re expected to go drop-out of college.

  22. Qualifications have become something of an arms race. I was fortunate to have started out in the days when only 7pct were admitted to university. As one of the 93pct I began on the shop floor and rose through the ranks. When I hung up my spurs my replacement required serious post-graduate qualifications and had to speak a minimum three languages. Different times, different rules.

  23. “Qualifications have become something of an arms race.”

    That is an inevitable consequence of Bliar’s “university for everyone” diktat. Everyone will have a qualification. So more & higher’s the way to go. Provides endless job opportunities for teaching & examining jobs. S’pose the end point is when everyone’s in education – either teaching, being taught or examining whether the latter have learnt from the former.
    Serves to while away the time waiting for your boarding pass on the B Ark

  24. “a bright boy can teach himself enough basic chemistry to pass an admissions exam and then some – without ever touching a retort.” Not a chance, not if the admissions exam includes a practical. And if it doesn’t it’s not fit for purpose.

    Anyway, the comments show that my thinking “English; that goes without saying” was unduly sanguine.

  25. That is an inevitable consequence of Bliar’s “university for everyone” diktat. Everyone will have a qualification. So more & higher’s the way to go.

    Hence MBAs are now done by 22 year olds with no full-time work experience in order to get an entry-level job. It’s a pan-European problem at least.

  26. Wanting a language that’s not the applicant’s mother tongue?

    That would benefit those households that are bilingual. An immigrant family may speak their native language at home (and use native language books there) while the kids born here learn both English and native language at home.
    High level of language skill in both languages possible.

    Couple of friends of mine the kids are bilingual, English and British Sign Language. Good enough to translate for their parents at hospital, school, doctors, council etc.

    So kids from bilingual households would have an advantage if they could stay awake in the lessons (someone try and teach a kid raised on Spanish beginning Spanish and see how they keep up without correcting the teacher).

  27. Tim Newman – back when I was in school in the 80s there were people doing MBAs at age 22 with no full time work experience. People do whatever to get ahead or to get the jobs they think they want / the money they think they want.

  28. The more educated a society is, the wealthier in soul and pocket it will be.

    Hmm. Do Media Studies or Grievance Studies improve the Nation’s soul? I would suggest they do the opposite.

    Do they make us wealthier? Doesn’t appear to make the individuals themselves wealthier if they cannot earn enough to pay off this debt over their lifetime.

  29. A society which has so many media studies and journalism graduates that they cannot even work for free at news organisations without being related to senior staff, while we have to import plumbers and electricians is a serious misallocation of resources at a societal level.

    You can’t even solve it by wages rising, as these people are desperate to work for nothing. It’s completely crazy.

  30. Wanting a language that’s not the applicant’s mother tongue?

    That would benefit those households that are bilingual.

    And hence pushed by people and sub-cultures that are bilingual, e.g. in Canada. French is a requirement for government jobs across the country, even in British Columbia where hardly anyone speaks French. Thus your government gets run by French Canadians.

    Why bother to invade these days? Take over with a small change in the law, everyone else is slumped on the sofa watching TV and can’t be arsed to stop you.

  31. If a university degree is complex, academically rigorous and intellectually challenging and demanding and this is true for all universities then only around 10% or so of the population can cope with this. Even fewer if you are considering a research degree. This suggests we have too many universities that are pretending to be such institutions. Chemistry is a very practical science and my favourite subject at school. Biology is valuable as the biochemistry is useful as a started for a medical degree and you get to use a scalpel and lose being so squeamish (or you did when I was at school. Physics is great too but you do need a good teacher to teach quantum physics as it is so counter intuitive. I find having been taught Latin at school that it is still useful. It also gave me invaluable knowledge about the structure of my own language, English. I think everyone should study maths and some science up to A level. The soft, non-quantitative subjects are not that relevant but still are interesting and a mix is no bad thing. The A level though should be an introduction as to how things are taught a university and not spoon fed.

  32. I did Physics, biology, chemistry A levels, plus use of Engish, Additional maths (calculus as not going maths A level) and general studies. All the science subjects had a practical exam and you had to pass each one to actually pass the exam. This was O&C A level board in 1971. I was accepted into Med school (three offers) and did post grad degree too. Then post doc fellowship. It was FUN too, doing stuff in labs, dissection theatres and the like. There was a good social life too.

  33. @Rob,

    “Hmm. Do Media Studies or Grievance Studies improve the Nation’s soul? I would suggest they do the opposite.”

    Agreed, but then I don’t think they qualify as education either, so the point is moot.

  34. “so the point is moot”: do you mean moot in the British or American sense?

    (I notice that the youngsters use it only in the American, or perhaps a sub-American, sense. Comes of being essentially uneducated, I suppose.)

  35. @ Dr Evil
    Intellectually Challenging is a description that will mean different things to Winchester scholars and those at schools for those with moderate learning difficulties (it won’t mean anything to those at SLD schools). For instance I found myself struggling to cope when during a conversation with a couple of my wife’s college friends they got onto some of their post-PhD maths.
    So you can have a course that is intellectually challenging for someone who failed the first half of the 11+.
    I agree that we should not waste youngsters’ time and money spending 3 or 4 years and scores of £k on a worthless course: I am saying this because I fear that you have attributed to stupidity that which really should be attributed to malevolence.

  36. john maplas said:
    “None of this mentions becoming a plumber. Much respected and well paid”

    But it won’t get you invited to north London dinner parties with Guardian journalists, so as far as the media are concerned it isn’t “much respected”.

  37. “But it won’t get you invited to north London dinner parties with Guardian journalists, so as far as the media are concerned it isn’t “much respected”.

    Having at one time been a N. London plumber, I can confirm not often. But it does give one the opportunity to introduce them to the delights of capitalism, red in tooth & claw, up close & personal. One has them them firmly by the balls, the only question being whether to squeeze or twist.

  38. Reading the other day that Sussex are awarding 50% of students a first made me realise, that what we have actually done is added 2 or 3 years to the school system. So instead of leaving at 16, everyone now leaves at 18 with A levels that are basically as testing as the old O’levels. Then, thanks to Blair, 50% of the cohort go to ‘Uni’ where they focus on some form of higher education (yes even the media studies wibble) and achieve an undergraduate degree equivalent to the old A levels. The fact that they usually get out of home environment, learn to look after themselves a bit and mix with people from different places makes a kind of nationwide sixth form for 18 year olds. The fact that it is funded with a graduate tax (for that is what a student loan actually is) is actually no bad thing, not least because it allows everyone access to ‘private education’. Then after 3 years, approximately 15-20% of the actually academically able/interested go on to do a masters having attained a first, which is essentially the same ratio as ‘the old days’, except we actually have a much better ‘sorting hat’.
    Employers know what they are getting, snowflakes get pushed into the real world where, largely, they get a gentle slap by reality and get on with it.

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