If it wasn’t so criminally wasteful of taxation, it would be laughable. The government is proposing in conjunction with the bed manufacturers Dream, to inaugurate at the new Buckinghamshire University, a two year course on selling beds. Just imagine, one hilarious moment in the practicals, with all climbing on and off beds. Where have these people in Westminster been all their lives, have they never heard of second-hand car salesman, few of them came from a university, but they have the apocryphal reputation of being able to sell you something you later regret, in the wink of an eye. I have known salesman, and commercial reps, who started life on the shop floor, and through their natural talents of selling, communicating and being sociable, rose to great heights. These talents cannot be taught, and I suggest the whole idea is farcical. To even give diplomas will be over the top, where will it stop, university courses for checkout girls, after all that’s very technical?
University Education, Then And Now. I matriculated in June 1940, when the universities were evacuated. I only had one relation and no acquaintances who, had been to university. Today, of my 10 grandchildren and their spouses, eight have been to university. I became articled to a profession before the war, but it didn’t give me a feeling, at the time, of being second-class. Today, if you haven’t been to university, there is a social stigma, so everyone is clamouring to go. On being demobbed, I went to university on an ex-service grant. I believe that only two people dropped out of our 40 student, four-year course, one through illness. Today one in five students drops out. Being at university, after the rigours of school, was rather like being let out of jail, you were free, you made your own decisions, not acting under instruction. This freedom affected different people in different ways, and varied according to the subjects that you took. We all had some free periods, the curriculum logistics required this, and how you spent those free periods was of your own choice. Some played poker, or billiards, others studied individually or in groups. The sciences, medicine and engineering were more concentrated in the number of lectures that we had to attend, than the arts and more philosophical
degrees. As a result unlike those in the arts etc, the rest of us had fewer free periods and I believe had to work harder.
I’m sure the reason that medicine, the sciences, and engineering generally have not been the chosen subjects for university degrees, is because the other degrees offer more free time, are in no way as concentrated, and the chances of passing are greater. In spite of an £800 million effort to stem the rate of dropout, there is still a 22% drop out from university, which is costing us millions every year. Sophie, who was a grammar school teacher, and taught many children to university level, is convinced as I am, that the problem lies squarely in the fact that the level of achievement at A Level is lower, and the corresponding reduction in entrance standards, in order to keep up the university intake and to maintain viability, is the stumbling block. There must be some reason why the rate of dropout has increased. When I was at work, every year I had an intake of a number of university graduates, and had to train them. Their knowledge in some of the more abstruse aspects of engineering was more advanced than anything I knew, but they were deficient in the bread-and-butter issues, and it was there that I had to do the training. The chances of them ever having to design the fancy structures that they had been taught was minimal and in most cases zero. I wonder therefore whether the academics, running the degree courses, for their own satisfaction and interest are widening the range of the subject to an abstruse level, and consequently reducing the overall quality of the
teaching of the bread-and-butter issues, which is what the examination should be testing on.
Doing away with selection examinations, is doing away with any yardstick by which an employer, or a university, can evaluate the overall intelligence, achievement and general ability of a student under scrutiny for a job or a university place. Any system of assessment has a serious weakness, it is dependant upon personal preferences and bias. Unequivocally individuals have favourites. The reverse is also a given, people can take unreasonable exceptions which ultimately could influence others’ lives. It is the principle of the ‘old boy net’. In spite of this, as a result of pressure by a minority, because exams are allegedly stressful, the government intends imposing an assessment system whereby school students are assessed, in lieu of written and oral examination. It is a tortuous path to mediocrity. There is no assurance the assessments are standard, across-the-board, by their very nature this would be impossible. Assessment only transfers the stress from the examination room to the ignominy felt, by those not meeting the standards that they have been assessed at, in a job or at university, and are sacked or sent down.