By Jack Rivlin
There was an awkward silence on Newsnight on Tuesday. An unemployed graduate was complaining about his bad job prospects when Jeremy Paxman interjected: “Maybe you should choose a degree that gets you a job.”
Well hang on a minute, Paxo. Is the only point of going to University to get a job? I ruddy well hope not.
For many people, education is simply a route to earning money. But I believe education can be an end in itself. If you want to be that square who says they chose their degree for its “really good job prospects” then go ahead, but studying a subject because it interests you should be enough of a reason to go to University.
University is also valuable precisely because it gives you an adult life outside of the rat race. Young people have precious little time to cultivate interests and a personality before they’re told to ‘brand’ themselves and ‘develop a persona.’ They need a window of real self-development.
Our American and European cousins have already gone down this road. There, you routinely find people who studied things like Business Strategy and Management. Well that makes for some cracking dinner party fodder. “What shall we talk about first: Quantitative Methods or Finance and Accounting?”
Do we want to turn our Universities into employee factories, churning out an army of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss clones, shinier and better at networking than the iPhone 4S, but lacking any real personality?
I’m sure Paxman, a literature graduate, was just being Devil’s Advocate (is he ever anything else?). But his lazy remark is the watchword for a growing movement of utilitarians who see the CV first and the person second.
If we don’t rescue education from this economic imperative, we’ll be a nation of – to borrow a phrase from The Thick of It – “brushed-aluminium cyber-pricks.”