Why tomorrow’s parents won’t want their children to go to university

Degrees are losing their prestige at the very moment their cost is increasing

24 January 2015

9:00 AM

24 January 2015

9:00 AM

Could the current generation of parents be the first ones who won’t want their children to go to university? Until now that mortarboard photo on the sideboard has always been the dream, visual proof that your offspring have munched their way to the top of the educational food chain. Advancement by degree. But that was before tuition fees. Now there’s a price tag attached to your little one’s ‘ology’ (to quote Maureen Lipman in those BT ads), how many people will automatically see it as a good thing? Perhaps more of us will refuse to prostrate ourselves before the great god Uni? If so, that can only be a good thing.

I attended Manchester University between 1989 and 1992. Given those three years again, I wouldn’t bother — I’d get straight to work. Or rather straight back to work: after school I’d spent a year as an office junior, earning a few quid and discovering what this thing called ‘employment’ was all about. Perhaps that’s why I found university so frustrating — it was a return to school but without the uniform. There was a feeling of life being on hold, the knowledge, even as you crammed for your latest exam, that as soon as the exam was over your brain was going to jettison the material for ever. The chances of it coming in useful later were zero. University was really just a box to be ticked, something you did because everybody else did it, or at least everybody who had good enough A-level grades. Sure, conventional wisdom painted it as an ‘investment in your future’, a ‘valuable addition to your CV’, and lots of other phrases designed to cover up the truth, namely that university is a way of delaying real life for three years while you fanny around with traffic cones and tequila.

‘Yes,’ comes the standard response, ‘but university teaches you about living away from home.’ You get the same lesson if you move out and start working. Plus you’re earning money, so enabling you to have some real fun, rather than the sort that involves collecting together all your loose change before deciding whether you can afford that tricky third pint. Now students have to find nine grand a year in tuition fees on top of their kebab money, surely more school-leavers will see sense and head for the workplace rather than the dreaming spires?

This isn’t to say that no one needs university. If your job’s going to involve you operating on people’s brains or designing buildings safe enough for them to live in, then clearly you need some training. But the rest of us — really? Did we honestly learn anything at uni other than hangover cures? I studied politics, and when my second year coincided with the single most fascinating political event of recent decades (the fall of Margaret Thatcher) I learned a hell of a lot — by reading newspapers and listening to the radio. English graduates: it was three years of being allowed to read Jane Austen during office hours, wasn’t it? History graduates: ditto with Simon Schama. Geography graduates… actually, what do you do on a geography degree?

For a few years yet, university will have a snob value built into it. Most employers nabbed their degrees when they were free (that is, paid for with other people’s taxes), and so will look down on any applicant whose name isn’t followed by those two or three little letters. But more and more the positions of power will come to be occupied by people whose degrees cost them a packet, who’ll have first-hand experience of questioning whether that money actually bought them anything. ‘You must go to university,’ their parents told them. ‘Then you’ll always have the qualification to fall back on.’ Instead of being a safety net, though, the degree of the future will be a millstone, sapping your wage packet for decades as you repay your student debt. Let’s see how long the mortarboard retains its sheen then.

The other factor — and the reason the state can no longer afford to fund degrees in the first place — is that the number of people taking them has risen so astronomically. This in itself will help remove the false mystique from the phrase ‘university-educated’. Did you attend the University of South Lincolnshire (formerly Sleaford Kindergarten)? Then you might as well not have bothered. Instead of asking ‘Did you go to university?’, employers will ask ‘Which university did you go to?’ And if you need help with the correct answers to that, think back to the episode of Yes, Minister when Sir Humphrey says that the universities have to be protected — ‘both of them’.

This assumes that employers will even ask about your education. Some (The Spectator among them) already ask would-be interns to remove it from their CV, preferring to assess candidates on their ideas for the job and how they present them, rather than on a list of academic qualifications. I predict that more and more companies will follow suit. This isn’t an anti-university argument in itself — it could be that those employers still believe a degree makes you a better prospect, but don’t want to prejudice their decision. Perhaps, perhaps not. Similarly school-leavers might genuinely view a degree as a worthwhile investment rather than a necessary line on their CV — but if they’re no longer allowed to include that line, will they still bet 30 grand on it?

If you want a one-line argument on the issue, it’s that Neil Kinnock went to university but Winston Churchill didn’t. ‘Why am I the first Kinnock for a thousand generations,’ asked the Ginger Gasbag, ‘to be able to get to university?’ Well, Neil, the oldest one in this country is Oxford, established just over 900 years ago, and that’s about 50 generations, tops. Clearly university doesn’t do much for your maths.

All the people I’ve ever heard expressing regret at not going to university are perfect examples of why you don’t need to. They’ve all achieved massively in their own fields, largely because they understand human nature and are good at dealing with people (any technical knowledge you need for a job is best learned on the job). Why does ‘education’ have to mean an institution? Life is its own education, as well as its own exam. Sure, you need school to set you up with the basics, but university is about narrowing everything down to the one subject you really want to devote yourself to — and how can you possibly know what that is at 18? A friend of mine has got it the right way round: after a long and successful career in the City he’s now planning, in his early sixties, to take a degree. University isn’t just wasted on the young — it’s a waste of your youth.

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  • Dogsnob

    The prestige was lost years ago. Why bother to study for three years or more, incurring ridiculous fees to saddle one for life, for the privilege of working in a call centre for low wages? So many young people I know are in that position.
    Even worse for one of them: she is now training to be a teacher.

    • redsquirrel

      What did she study?

      • little islander


        • redsquirrel

          Do call centres take those?

          • little islander

            Yourself must not mention it in CV or during interview, like when yourself apply to be an intern at the Speccie.

        • AgZarp

          PPEists are busy in government

          • little islander

            Nannies are some of the busiest people around.

      • Dogsnob

        English innit

        • redsquirrel

          I don’t have any stats to back this up but surely that is the sort of degree people are going to start thinking twice about. I’m sure it will all come good for her with teaching but I wouldn’t encourage my kids to do a course like that.

          • Teacher

            Law, comms, media, P.R., journalism, teaching, civil service, administration, management, writing, politics, public affairs. English is pretty saleable providing you are damned good at it. Not many people are which gives you an advantage.

          • redsquirrel

            Yeah, maybe. It’s not very concrete though for the sake of all that debt. You would need a law degree to go into law. Obviously if you did almost any other degree teaching would be available.

    • fundamentallyflawed

      The issue is that as government gets ever more obsessed with Degrees jobs that should be open to all are now being closed – vocations are becoming Degree level jobs.
      I have even seen office junior jobs (must be able to update database and file £13K salary) marked as degree applicants only.

      • post_x_it

        This ties up neatly with the recruitment crisis for such jobs as paramedics. These careers are no longer viable to new entrants now that they require an expensive and time consuming degree.

    • Gwangi

      Yes, and what the higher education system in the UK is tantamount to fraud: it is deceiving gullible young people that if they do a meeja studies degree at the 4th rate former poly university of the M25, they can earn more over a lifetime (lie), get a glamorous job in the media (lie) and generally be successful (lie). It is an utter scandal – the wholescale grooming of our young people by devious, self-interested academics and their vile institutions.

      Most people now go to university – all nurses, for one thing, and that gives them an attitude that emptying a bedpan is too good for them. Really unacademic (AKA Thick) people get degrees now – and together with massive grade inflation, that has devalued all degrees, meaning people now have to get a Master’s degree and more to stand out from the crowd. This has meant that social mobility has gone into reverse – because unless you have money or parental connections, you can more or less forget about getting that break in the media etc.

      • Peter Fisher

        A Masters today costs £45k, leave Uni with that debt repayment is = finding a second rent every month, forever, forever, forever, forever.

        • Gwangi

          Yep unless you never earn enough to repay it, in which case it’ written off in 30 years. A motivation for being idle?

          • rodger the dodger

            I think most of them won’t, so they’re quids in…

          • Alex

            Not when they sell it off to a hedge fund and they change the terms

    • rodger the dodger

      The first time I encountered somebody applying for a job with a media studies degree was over twenty years ago, so the rot’s been in for some time. Looking at the CVs, I recall my boss said to me, “Media Studies? What the hell’s Media Studies?”. I said to the applicant in the interview, “You know, you should have just come to us three years ago from school, because this is a waste of time. You’d have been much further ahead by now…”.

      • Dogsnob

        Exactly. And yet, on it ploughs, this lunatic urge to academise every workplace, to discard on-the-job skill development, all so that the University industry monster can be fed.

        Meanwhile, BMW, Mercedes and Audi take in their annual apprentices and teach them how engineering is done and how money is made in this world.

    • Teacher

      Tell her not to. It’s hell.

      • Dogsnob

        I have. I tried it myself. But I’m alright now!

  • redsquirrel

    I’ve always found it mildly irritating that everybody gets “a degree” if they study geography etc or a real subject. For me that’s more annoying than assorted polytechnics calling themselves universities. Some of the poly’s have some decent courses.

  • Yorkieeye

    My daughter and her husband ( they married aged 22) spurned university for industry. They both now run businesses, have owned their own home for six years and earn big bucks. They also have a lot of autonomy at work and really enjoy their jobs. They have friends from sixth form who are still living with their parents! If university improves ones life time earnings these forever students will have to get a move on to catch and pass my girl.

    • Gwangi

      You confuse EDUCATION and TRAINING – you seem to think the former should be the latter and just provide skills and competency training so students can earn more in tedious pointless corporate jobs.

      Education is meant to be about learning how to ask BETTER QUESTIONS getting some cultural understanding and learning how to think. I see you have never benefited from this experience, though you probably had some good training in being common and vulgar, thinking life all boils down to how much you earn. Your daughter is probably as thick as curry too. Only thick people enjoy tedious jobs like that. No brains or imagination, see.

      Two questions: 1) When was the last time she read a book? 2) Was it The Very Hungry Caterpillar or perhaps one of those tedious business autobiographies by uncultured Dragons Den money-grubbing bores.

      But you are right: people of your type really should never go to university; then intelligent, academic, thinking people can go there free from the pollution of the training-by-numbers classes.

      • Grace Ironwood

        Gwangi are you serious ? Surely you can make your point without all the snobbery & negative speculative attacks on your interlocutor-who you really know nothing about.

        Working in the “sector” I can tell you it was poor quality & obsessed by various leftist politics in the 90’s and has declined woefully since governments have decided that half the population should go to university to produce the post industrial workforce.

        The universities, led by what were formerly the humanities, are now having to cater to a broad market of students that are unsuitable for university study. These institutions are Going Down.

        • Gwangi

          You mean the person who thinks his spawn is so superior to other people’s kids coz she earns more? That stuck-up attitude means the poster deserves a kicking. One can be VERY thick and uncultured and earn pots of cash. QED.
          Rather odd this twerp believes that can deduce I work for the council though from my post. Methinks an basic education is needed

      • Yorkieeye

        You patronising git. And was it worth us educating you so that you can toss it off all day at the tax payers expense in whatever local government job you do?

        • Gwangi

          N, you stuck up git, showing off that YOUR offspring are superior because they didn’t go to university. Maybe the were too thick too eh? I find it very telling just how many lower class uneducated types I have come across who constantly demand and disparage the benefits of education, then who al want their kids to go to private schools and get degree.
          You r too thick to know the difference between education and training – and seem obsessed by money and showing off. Not only thick them – vulgar with it.

          • Yorkieeye

            So much for the benefits of education Gwangi, clearly reasoned argument wasn’t on the ciriculum for you. What an unpleasant and frustrated person you seem to be.

          • Gwangi

            You need to get an education. Then you could see what a prize wally you are thinking the only function of the education system is to train people to earn more money.
            Has your daughter ever read a book, I wonder?
            I am not frustrated at all – that is because I have enjoyed a fine British Classical education. Re money – now I am very well off though I didn’t use to be. Money means little to me, frankly; having the ability to think is far more important.
            Unpleasant? Only to twerps who think you can judge people by how much their earn.

          • Yorkieeye

            How dare you assume that my daughter can’t read? You were furious when I assumed you were some local government factotum. You are very hung up on money, the example of my offspring was made merely to illustrate the possibility that there is life without a degree. In fact those people working in industry (making useful Things) are probably paying your salary, as I doubt anyone with your contempt for the private sector is working in it and is, therefore, a benificienary of our munificence.

          • Gwangi

            Me hung up on money? Ho ho ho. You see to think one’s earnings are all that matters and the only reason for anyone going to university is to improve one’s earning power.
            Perhaps the problem with universities started when they started letting in money-grubbing vulgar people like you.

            I am glad your daughter didn’t go to university; I wish other academic mediocrities realised their talents lay elsewhere too – then people could stop teaching to the test and engaging in fraudulent grade inflation, and then we can stop treating universities like training centres. You clearly have no idea of the definition and purpose of REAL education (not training).
            And you still assume I am a local government officer (your fantasy. Were you abused by a councillor once or something? You have real issues there…) How on earth can you tell which job I do? Where did I state contempt for the private sector (your sad delusion again)?

            For your information, I own my own business and bring money into this country – and the taxes and economic activity my company generates helps pay for people to go to university, and will no doubt pay for your daughter to fleece the state of maternity pay if the time comes. Making things? As if that is superior to the service sector… Too much consumerist junk gets made – best not to buy any of it.
            Gosh you are a pompous twerp of very little brain, aren’t you?

          • Yorkieeye


          • Yorkieeye

            As I have no idea of how much you earn my estimation of you is based entirely upon your responses here.

          • Gwangi

            Really. Well what miraculous powers you have, being able to ascertain that I work for local government from my responses here (?!). What a twerp!
            You are like those hypocrite politicians who use their kids to improve their political chances, then complain when the media mentions their kids!
            You are claiming your kids are superior to the kids of other people who were stupid to go to university because now they earn less. Well, that may be true – but really academic, thinking people should go to university. Worker bees like your daughter and others of very little brain have no need to. And yes, you can earn pots of cash without a degree – salespeople are often very ‘unacademic’ but may well earn 6 figures flogging people corporate junk.

          • ChrisTavareIsMyIdol

            Obviously they aren’t “thick”. What makes you think someone with a degree is in any way superior?

          • Gwangi

            Not what said, eejit.
            But only academically able people should go to uni. The less academic should get training. And yes, some people are plain thick (about a third of people). I do not believe in this ‘we’re all intelligent now’ twaddle.

      • Weaver

        I came top of class at a top 10 uni. I’m not sure I’d go again; I’m not sure it was worth my time.

        The useful stuff, including the logic and reasoning… if I’m honest,….it could have been crammed in a one year course.

        • ChrisTavareIsMyIdol

          And there’s the problem. If you take a one-year Masters you cover as much work at a higher level than most three year degree courses, so why on earth are degrees taking 3 years apart from the “keeps us in work Chancellor” theory?

    • justthinkaboutit

      Whether you go to university or not can impact highly on your job prospects for the future (like it or not). It all depends on what you study and where; a respected degree at a Russell Group university is vastly different to a ‘vocational-style’ degree at an ex-poly.

      Whilst it’s daughter is earning ‘big bucks’, I’m sure she will have to ‘get a move on’ to still be in competition with those ‘forever students’ who went into jobs like law or banking with starting salaries of £45-50K (with the potential for that to double in the first 2-3 years). I’m thinking that in a few years she will be the one playing ‘catch up’.

      • Yorkieeye

        Don’t think so, she’s got a seat on the board and equity now. Sometimes experience of a particular industry is everything. And how many kids go the Russell group universities? Yes, lawyers will be earning sqillians but who else?

        • justthinkaboutit

          Then clearly she has done well for herself. She, however, is the exception to the rule, not everyone is as fortunate. In the vast majority of cases those with a good degree will end up earning more.
          But as to you asking how many people go to Russell group universities – that is exactly the point I was trying to make; it is those universities that are respected and whose graduates are more likely to be successful and make use of their degrees. Degrees from non-high-ranking universities are nigh on worthless in real terms.
          The other problem though is that the vast majority of grad schemes require a degree to evidence academic ability; regardless of underlying intelligence or ability candidates without a degree will often not be considered meaning that trying to enter into an industry without a degree is often much harder.

          • ChrisTavareIsMyIdol

            “In the vast majority of cases those with a good degree will end up earning more. ”

            How much?

          • justthinkaboutit

            Statistically 10%, but if the anomalies (as in this case) are discounted then that will be far more.

          • Gwangi

            In the past, yes – but now 50% of kids got to uni and thickies get 2.1s as standard, I am not so sure.
            Universities though parrot that stat – because they they are businesses who get paid per student who goes there. That is why they have no qualms about deceiving and grooming vulnerable kids with lies about how if they do a meeja studies degree at the university of the M25, they can have an exciting and well-paid career in TV or whatever, Utterly dishonest – because all that happens is rather mediocre kids with no chance of a sparkling media career end up with £30k of debt and working at the tills in Lidl, at best.

        • Gwangi

          You reduce everything to how much graduates earn, as if that is the whole purpose of our education system. That is TRAINING. NOT education. Yu just don’t get that, do you?
          You no doubt know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
          My life experience as taught me that many people who have serious amounts of money are 1) pretty thick; 2) uncouth and uncultured; 3) shallow and superficial – like you actually, measuring everything on a spreadsheet as the only criterion for its worth. There are a few exceptions, but a lot of very rich people are sad and pathetic in their assumption money is everything.

          • Yorkieeye

            Whatever else your education did for you it didn’t make you a gentleman. Is it really suitable that a man of your age should spend the weekend trolling women on the Internet?

          • Gwangi

            What? Trolling women? I merely reply t your inane stuck-up pompous posts (and had no idea of your gender Littlle Miss Victimhood-craver). No wonder no-one believes women accusing men of abuse – false accusation queens like you are legion.
            But your abusive silly desperate post proves I have won the argument. Thanks,

          • Yorkieeye

            Hardly, I would have thought it is axiomatic that descending into torrents of personal abuse proves a lack of ability to marshall cogent arguments.

        • Gwangi

          From today’s (31.1.15) Independent letters. READ this from a head of a school:

          ‘In one fell swoop, by equating the value of education with long-term earning potential, our Education Secretary has managed to reduce the whole thing to a profit and loss account. Nicky Morgan’s promise, made at the education technology show Bett this week, to attach students’ qualifications to tax data so she can demonstrate to the waiting world their “true worth” is a short jump from believing that the worth of individuals is measured by the size of their bank account.’
          Education is WAY more than that – though I can’t expect bean counting money-grubbers who know the price of everything but the value of nothing to realise that.
          I would rather be poor and well-educated than rich an ignorant, thick and uninterested in culture/thinking/books. Happily, I am well-off and well-educated. So there! Probably wouldn’t employ your daughter anyway, not if her spelling and grammar is as bad as most British kids’ these days. Tsss…

      • llbee

        Total myth. The vast majority of bankers and lawyers um, how shall I put it, “leave” those high-paying jobs after a very few years, and end up doing something that is quite ordinary and not particularly well paid.

        • justthinkaboutit

          Well, it’s clearly not a total myth since there are bankers and lawyers who’ve worked for over a few years. Every associate and partner in a law firm for example. Whilst, clearly, not everyone is cut out for the job the majority of people entering those professions know what they’re letting themselves in for with the majority of top 50 law firms having retention rates of over 80% at then end of their training contract.

  • Zanderz

    …what do you do on a geography degree?


    • rockylives

      You mean, like, arguing?

      • Zanderz

        Let’s not start rowing over rowing…

  • Gwangi

    Great questions to which the answer is NO (number 734):

    “Could the current generation of parents be the first ones who won’t want their children to go to university?”

  • rtj1211

    I wouldn’t send my children to university now unless they wanted to be doctors, dentists or vets and possibly lawyers (although you could learn the law by distance learning perfectly well). There’s nothing else on this earth that benefits from three years getting very indebted.

    So you ask whether they are likely to be able to screw around a lot at college, build a powerful social network etc etc. If so, then maybe they should go for the partying. Jolly expensive partying, but even that can be calculated in investment terms.

    If they are bright but a bit shy, they should start work at 18 and gain qualifications whilst in work. They’ll remain debt free in their 20s and be 3 years ahead in work smarts, skills and experience.

    • HJ777

      Many of our older lawyers never went to university – many started as articled clerks.

      Strangely, you omit occupations like engineers, physicists, chemists, etc. from your list. You’re not going to learn those skills “on the job”.

    • Dodgy Geezer

      …I wouldn’t send my children to university now unless they wanted to be doctors, dentists or vets and possibly lawyers (although you could learn the law by distance learning perfectly well). There’s nothing else on this earth that benefits from three years getting very indebted….

      Sounds like your world is going to be a bit short of engineers and chemists, then. I am not at all sure that I would like to commission a refinery or fly in an aeroplane that had been designed by ‘distance-learners’…

      • ChrisTavareIsMyIdol

        Which university did the Wright brothers attend? Or RJ Mitchell?

        • post_x_it

          What a silly comparison. The Wright brothers were pioneers in uncharted territory. They managed to make a very rudimentary flying machine through years of trial and error. Yes, it was a brilliant achievement. But times have moved on, and if I’m going to get on an aeroplane in 2015 I’d rather it was designed by somebody who spent a few years being systematically schooled in humanity’s combined knowledge of aeronautics.

    • Weaver

      Engineering (all types), chemistry and maths still pays a good RoI at university. But you’re probably right otherwise.

  • Cymrugel

    Has this Mason chap got any sprogs, and if so have they been to university?

    If so they almost certainly all went to/are in private schools.

    I am pretty sure none of them will be applying for hairdressing or car mechanics apprenticeships either.

    So either he is talking bollocks or he is relying on nepotism smoothing their path.

    Well, which is it?

  • pobinr

    So many jobs have become degree status. Nursing, Radiography, Physiotherapy etc etc. Reason = Status enhancement. Not becuase it’s of any benefit to the patient.

  • Dogsnob

    Veering slightly off topic: was taking my midday swig the other day when a young lass came in, asked behind the bar if there was any chance of some work. ‘You could leave your CV with us’. And quick as a flash, she did.
    A CV to be considered worthy of pulling pints!
    Nearly choked on the old Malibu and Vimto.

  • Bonkim

    Too many – degree inflation – every one is having one – useless subjects, second rate Universities – not wanted in industry or business – low wages – get a trade skill that pays better.

  • commenteer

    Rather sad that the writer appears to have learnt very little at his university in terms of presenting an argument or producing a decent piece of prose. Even sadder that the Spectator is prepared to publish such second-rate stuff.

  • thomasaikenhead

    Excellent article!

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    Yes I quite agree. But there are no jobs so what else can people do?

  • Tom M

    quite agree about the a

  • Tom M

    Quite agree on the article’s take on degrees. They have been devalued to the point of meaninglessness.

    The other cliché that has equal annoying status is “fast-track”. If any combination of words was ever designed to debase experience and natural ability it is the advertisement for a degree qualified applicant to be fast tracked to a position that would normally have taken someone with an HNC about ten years to reach.

  • Ringstone

    All that will happen is reason will reassert itself and 50% of the population will no longer go to university to study Comparative Morris Dancing at the University of DoTheyHaveOneThere? where once 5% or so of the very brightest went into tertiary education.
    Doctors, engineers, etc will still go – and earn oodles thereafter to pay off the loan. The liberal sciences will, once again, concentrate on the outstanding – who also will be able to make a living.
    The rest will go into work, and lo the currently devalued elite status of universities [the dross having gone out of business] will return. Reason and economics triumphs over half baked social engineering once more.

  • pobinr

    Learn while you earn. ONC, HNC apprenticeships a much better system. Unless you want to be a doctor or lawyer

  • rtj1211

    Prestige is a ridiculous basis for assigning privilege and seniority in life.

    Universities should only provide advantage if they genuinely provide competitive advantage to graduates over non-graduates. Being a wordsmith isn’t a competitive advantage outside the media, and wordsmithery is often used to the detriment of the country in the journalism trade (note, it is not a profession, as that requires ethical standards utterly absent in any journalism).

    All most universities do well is serve up data and information for processing/analysis. You’d learn far more working 3 years for McLaren if you wanted to become an engineer, preferably from 16 – 19, not 18 – 21. Doesn’t mean you wouldn’t go off to be creative in a start-up situation at some stage, just means you’d have real cutting edge problem solving to deal with, which is what real work is all about.

    Until Universities have an edge of reality to them, rather than being glorified safari parks, people should see them as false prestige, not real prestige.

  • Sean L

    This is poor. You mistake education for vocational training. But properly understood education is, by definition, useless. In Matthew Arnold’s words it’s about passing on “the best that has been thought and said.” Which means not only developing a critical faculty in the individual but also a process of cultural transmission, reproducing social capital of incalculable long term value.

    Arnold was opposing precisely this kind of utilitarian attitude, for which he coined the term “philistine”. If the only standard of value is economic utility and self promotion that would spell the death of high culture. Learned pursuits with no immediately recognisable economic use but necessary for the maintenance of civil society would disappear. The social capital that provides us with models for civilised existence would wither away leaving us a race of barbarians.

    But the irony is that ” uselessness “, classical learning, as Boris Johnson and Harry Mount have argued in these pages, cultivates traits and habits that ultimately add value in ways that cannot possibly be predicted. Architecture offers an excellent analogy. Consider London town houses built in the 18th century, such as in Bloomsbury that used to house the Spectator say. These were built purely on a human scale to be aesthetically pleasing as townhouses for the gentry. But today they’re used for all kinds of businesses and institutions, from banks to universities. Whereas modern buildings built for a specific function have to be torn down and rebuilt every few years.

    Of course if it was just left to the developers and the market and whatever notions of economic utility were in fashion at the time, they’d all have been demolished by now, and we’d all be the poorer for it in every sense. That polytechnics, ie vocational training colleges have been rebranded ‘universities’ and that what they teach could be better learnt on the job, as you say, is not the same as trashing higher education itself. On that subject, as Kingsley Amis put it sixty years ago: ” More will mean worse.”

  • john s

    Knocking university education is a bit of a fad lately, esp with self impressed journo types. Sadly, they seem to have very little understanding of the many fields of study which require a formal education (for accreditation at least) and likely always will.

  • bondi1000

    A university education may nominally revolve around a single subject but properly directed it should offer the time and opportunity to broaden the mind and to learn how to think and to reason. That is a benefit of which not everyone is mentally equipped to take advantage.

  • Weaver

    Outside the STEM subjects, the data shows university isn’t a good return on time&money investment for many candidates. Beyond narrowly technical fields, a degree as a signal of intelligence and diligence is diluted considerably when it only places you in the top 35% rather than the top 5% academically.

    There’s probably value added in a STEM 2:1 or an arts 1st. But an arts 2:1 probably isn’t worth the money. An arts 2:2 certainly isn’t. Doubly so if it’s from the University of Formerpoly.

  • Harryagain

    Part of the problem is that many technical colleges converted to “universities”.
    In fact,come to think, this is when the rot set in.

  • fenlandfox

    Nothing to add ,other than I agree

  • Sean L

    Talking of English, it makes little sense to talk of “other people’s taxes”. Taxation in this context is already “other people’s” by definition.

  • aurila

    probably not long (with a few exceptions like medicine, and Oxbridge),

    that if you put on your CV that you went to a ‘typical’ uni,

    it will be assumed that you are stupid,

    just waiting for the no win / no fee industry to target the unis

  • James Stewart

    Spot on; if you have it get out into the world. University is for those who want to continue in school; the joke is that you pay for it.

  • Kin62

    Don’t go to university. I did, and it was a waste of time. It trains you to think inside the box. It breeds a sense of superiority. I learned way more by working. Utter, utter waste of time.