Rational Discrimination

When I suggested recently that the level of university fees should differ according to the area of study, with science and engineering students being favoured over the arts, I was criticised as a philistine. At the risk of the accusation being repeated, I assert again the view that it makes little sense, vis-à-vis national strategy to treat all university subjects as of equal value. I find myself supported in that view in Dambisa Moyo’s latest book ‘How the West Was Lost’. She points to two features of education in the West as reasons why we are losing out economically in competition with countries such as China and India: egalitarianism and an aversion to science and engineering.

On egalitarianism she says “Indeed there is a growing concern that an ‘anti-meritocratic’ style of education may be becoming increasingly prevalent in more developed countries, places like the UK and Europe…” “This can be contrasted with the competition for places and brutal streaming in countries like India and China, where the exercise of academic culling is ongoing.”

Perhaps this explains why, in the eighties, when I was recruiting trainee managers from successful A level students, I had to include remedial education in English and maths in their training programme.

As to favouring science over the arts, she makes the point that sophistication in science and engineering is associated with economic growth, and suggests that these studies have become passé in the West. She contrasts China with America in this respect, telling us that in 2008 China had around 3.7 million engineering students while “…the US prefers lawyers over engineers by 41:1.”

As for the UK, GEC was struggling twenty years ago to find enough graduate engineers for its needs. Also, I recall meeting a British engineer in a French hotel some years ago. His machine tool company had been bought by a French rival and he was in France on a training programme. In conversation with me he expressed his astonishment at how much more advanced was the French company over his old outfit.

So, wanting to see discrimination in the educational field has nothing to do with being a philistine, but a lot to do with being an economic realist.

Author: tomkilcourse

A sceptical Mancunian who dislikes pomposity and rudeness.

53 thoughts on “Rational Discrimination”

  1. Bring back the technical colleges and close down a few Universities.

    Here’s a thought. If all funding for the arts was stopped, would the Arts stop?

  2. jazz606 :

    Bring back the technical colleges and close down a few Universities.

    Here’s a thought. If all funding for the arts was stopped, would the Arts stop?

    No, because the motivation is different.

  3. after reading in today’s paper about university chancellors receiving salaries of 300k and one up to 600k I think the rioting students should refocus their anger away from the governement and banks and onto their teachers.

  4. Whether or not it is philistine is totally irrelevant. It is common sense in a madly competitive world.
    Egalitarian claptrap will be the economic death of the West, it has already destroyed the cultural values of our society.

    I applied the fiscal law to this many years ago when the boy had the effrontery to tell me he was applying for a place in astrophysics or journalism. After foaming at the mouth for 30 minutes I presented him with the jobs supplement of the DT stabbing my fingers on the 8 pages of engineering jobs. The coup de grace being the refusal to subsidise him, the eviction of his possessions via his bedroom window and the total refusal to house him during 4 years of holidays!

    He saw the light and applied for material science the updated version of metallurgy instead.
    Years later he confided to me that the engineering courses were known to be some of the hardest going compared with his initial choices which had coloured his judgement and cheerfully admitted that I had done the right thing in stopping him acquiring a pretty useless degree.

    But how many parents do it? Most are so glad that the brat has managed to get into a third rate rat hole with limited IQ to read Bessarabian clog dancing with Portuguese they make no demur.
    Neither do the government.

    I have always thought it a deliberate policy to ensure the work force is only fit to be compliant wage slaves in an increasingly totalitarian state. There is very little scope for self employment with most of the trumped up so called educational qualifications currently on offer.

  5. Christina, you have a marvelous sense of expression. We persuaded my grand-daugher to study to be a vet (she loves horses) rather than some of the options. She graduates this year, and has loved it.

  6. We need a way in which motivated people can gain an accredited qualification without the inconvenience of going through the education system .

    Why not?
    Take maths for example, just set a stiff exam (A level at least), pass mark 75% just pass or fail, so no gold stars. Syllabus published on line maybe with a couple of specimen papers so you get the flavour of the thing. The exams are held let’s say every three months. You just turn up at the venue, pay your fee (£100?), get your ID checked, take the exam and either pass or fail, it’s entirely up to you. Obviously no tuition fees unless you engaged a private tutor.

    This arrangement could apply to a few key subjects Maths, Physics, English, Biology, Chemistry………….

  7. Hello Tom.
    I find myself in the opposing camp on this one, instinctively, at least, since I have always loved the arts and believe that a society that places little value on literature and music and so on runs the risk of becoming spiritually bereft and lacking many, many things – awareness; beauty, I could go on and on…
    Having said that, there are many valid arguments for encouraging study of the sciences and engineering, not least of all the fact that we have sidelined both for years in the UK, and that has been to our peril. The question that this raises is, is it necessary to ration funding to boost our economy? Very probably. And if you cut funding to the arts, will they go away? I think not, since poetry never does, but we might think they have, which in many ways is just as bad. The other question that springs to my mind is; can you put a price on the arts? Is it okay to fund the study of Shakespeare and Milton, but not, perhaps, Damien Hirst or the lyrics of Bob Dylan, or U2? I don’t claim to have the answers to any of this, by the way… 🙂

  8. Hi, Tom.

    It’s a possible position to adopt.

    It’s also state manipulation which smacks of the worst excesses of totalitarian regimes of both the left and the right, in my opinion.

    I’m a libertarian myself and still believe that, if you have the necessary capability, you should go to University to study what you want instead of what some command economy is saying you should be forced to do by arbitrary dictat, financial or otherwise.

    Don’t see the problem so long as you learn to think and to analyse problems, whatever your degree
    I’m probably wrong and certainly a tad elitist.

    Remedial English-wise, the WordPress spell checker is assuring me that ‘dictat’ and ‘tad’ are incorrect. It’s wrong.

  9. Evenin’, Tom. As you say, this problem has existed for at least twenty year and more probably since the barsteward birth of comprehensive education. Once thing is certain though, when employers have to provide remedial education in English and maths even after looking on MyFace, Spacebook or Twatter to find out what the applicant is really about, then you just know edjucayshun ain’t working, innit?

    National exams need to return to objective questions to test pupils’ knowledge rather than subjective impressions to which there are no wrong answers so as fulfil some target or other. These will also show whether or not a teacher is actually teaching anything, which might be a problem for the teaching unions, er, profession. This also means returning to proper, solid, core subjects – you know the sort of things; maths, Latin, English literature and history (and by history I mean “who”, “where” and “when” as opposed to “Imagine you are a slave. Describe your feelings”)

    And breathe, OZ, breathe!!

    OZ

  10. I don’t agree with any sort of “social engineering” of this sort, Tom.

    Arts and sciences are really two sides of the same coin. Whilst I take your point about there being a possible imbalance at the moment, it might be a better option for industry, and I use the term loosely to incentive graduates of the calibre or type they need. So far, the Services and one accountancy firm are the only ones to fund graduates they require.

    Since the introduction of university fees and the enormous personal cost to prospective graduates in any discipline, is it any wonder that they opt for those where their earning potential is greatest.

  11. Well, the Services and one accountancy firm are the only ones I have read about recently but I think this may well be a better option that government interference.

  12. Um, I was expecting you to turn up, Bearsy.

    I gave it at least five seconds deliberation and opted for the wrong one. 😦

    But I’m pleased you agree with me, though.

  13. My degree started life as a thick-sandwich Dip Tech, a four-year course where 6 months of each year were spent with one’s employer in a planned work-experience syllabus, the other 6 months of each year at a “C.A.T.”, all paid for, plus salary, by the sponsoring employer.

    An ideal situation for somebody whose parents were white-collar working class (or lower middle, as they liked to describe themselves) without a spare penny to rub together. My place at Cambridge didn’t get a look in; I much preferred to be paid for learning electronics and control theory, and how to apply it in industry, at the same time. Hence the TR2.

    But the CAT became a Uni, The Dip Tech became an Honours degree, and sandwich courses died a death. Hey ho, that’s progress, I suppose.

  14. Well, absolutely, Bearsy.

    It used to happen and it is much more sensible. At least you qualified and had some hands on experience; no remedial Maths or English courses necessary, as per Tom’s scenario.

    Younger daughter’s four year Speech Therapy degree was much the same as regards hands on experience, but less contact with real patients and she did qualify for an NHS bursary. The rest of it was funded by a student loan and long suffering parents.

    At least she had some practical experience and her contact hours were far in excess of mine, but she does have a BSc. Hons.

  15. Wife #2 was a Speech Therapist – a fascinating profession. She worked mainly in head trauma (CVA and accident) but also had a deep interest in linguistics. More power to your daughter’s elbow. 🙂

  16. Interesting comment, Araminta. I don’t look on Arts and Sciences as being different academic disciplines, but I do agree with the ‘social engineering’ reference. I gave up Maths, Physics and Chemistry arouund 1970 after gaining my ‘O’ levels in those subjects (and seven others) and took Latin, Greek and Ancient History at ‘A’ level, but my beef is the way in which pupils in all subjects are examined these days. The popular ‘no fail’ culture in favour of league tables of ‘A*’ success for the benefit of schools and the government is bound to fail, as are the eager pupils as soon as they step into the real world of work. What a shock that will be for the first time in their sheltered lives on top of the £35,000 debt they have just incurred for their worthless 2:2 media studies degree, and I say that with not a smidgeon of satisfaction whatsoever.

    OZ

  17. Bearsy :

    Wife #2 was a Speech Therapist – a fascinating profession. She worked mainly in head trauma (CVA and accident) but also had a deep interest in linguistics. More power to your daughter’s elbow. :-)

    She loves her job, Bearsy and is doing well. She too opted to work with adults; stroke and trauma, and she is managing a team of eight.

  18. OZ, I don’t disagree with you. There is a general dumming down, and far too many school leavers are encouraged to go to university. The drop rate is high and the cost is very much a shock; especially to those who don’t have parents to subsidise their degrees.

    Yes, paying that amount of money for a substandard and virtually worthless degree is no help to themselves or their future employers; should they be lucky enough to gain employment.

  19. How interesting OZ. I loved Pure Maths, but got lumbered with doing Applied and Physics at ‘A’ Level… only after a year did I discover that I could have taken History with the Pure Maths. A very clear case of the sort of ‘engineering’ that this post supports. “OK she’s good at Pure Maths she can take the Scientific options”.

    It was with much relief, and no surprise, that I failed both the Applied Maths and the Physics. I didn’t want to go to Uni anyway. When I decided to further my education at 26, I chose to study History – and the rest, as they say, IS history!

  20. While I agree with you, Tom, that the country needs more engineers and scientists, I think it also needs linguists and other arts graduates. What it doesn’t need is the “all must have prizes” culture and a slew of useless subjects. What good is media studies going to be? We also seem to be producing too many lawyers, many of whom then turn into politicians.

    Hatfield Poly, for instance, used to be outstanding in its field but has now become a third-rate university. What a waste. I’m glad Michael Gove seems to be doing something about raising standards.

    Christina, Portuguese is quite a tough language to learn. Not sure about the Bessarabian clog dancing though.

  21. What it doesn’t need is the “all must have prizes” culture and a slew of useless subjects.

    It’s the “all must have prizes” that I object to most. Once upon a time (that dates me doesn’t it!) to get a degree meant, as someone said earlier, that one had the capacity to learn, and to think. It wasn’t the subject so much as the mental discipline required to obtain the degree. A ‘tick the box’ qualification means nothing – whether it’s a science or an arts degree.

  22. Yes indeed, Boadicea. As a GCSE and A level examiner, I watched the standards falling gradually. I also came across other teachers who got very upset at the notion of having to teach pupils a past tense in the language for AS level, because they had managed to get through GCSE without it. My husband tears his hair out at the level of GCSE science now, and because of health and safety the experiments you can show pupils are restricted. I remember a former head of department telling me our generation was going to be the last of the academic linguists. How right she was.

  23. Ah yes! Scientific experiments! At one time, we had to have a Latin lesson (with its confusing assortment of tenses!) once a week in the Chemistry lab. We all knew sufficient chemistry to produce the ‘bad egg smell’ and took it in turns to create a stink from the assortment of chemicals neatly lined up on the benches sufficiently strong to curtail the lesson. No such joys for present students!

    Some years ago, I was horrified to hear a couple of History PhD students discussing what they wanted to prove in their dissertations. That, to me, is not research – since it was apparent that they were going to ‘sift’ the data to prove whatever they wanted.

  24. Gloomily nods agreement with all that has gone before!
    One thing that would help is to close down, or force reversion to polys of third rate institutions.
    Some of the drop out rates are way up 30%+. Total scandal.

    Wimmins studies is one of my pet peeves, as if they are from another planet, quite beyond. What kind of job are you supposed to be able to get with that? Total bloody sick joke.

  25. A lot further than you can get with Islamic Studies, for a start. Or meedya studies, or the utterly fatuous ‘hospitality services’. Or ‘social sciences’ – what a contradiction in terms!

    Wind up the pass standard to where it used to be, so the drop-out rate goes to 98%.
    Pass your degree at that standard, get your fees paid. Or alternatively, fail and see them doubled.

    No good reverting the third rate polys, they’ll still be third rate. Sack the ‘educationalists’.

    There’s loads that could be done, but the pollies and the luvvies lack the will.

  26. I used science and engineering to exemplify my point that we need to be developing certain talents and disciplines for economic survival. Social engineering may appear to be a negative cocept, but I thought we elected governments to determine strategic needs and to manage at a macroeconomic level. We are in the mire now because governments failed in that duty. Clair, I agree with you about the arts, but in the present crisis they are a ‘nice to have’, not a necssity for survival.

  27. No, Tom, a solid Arts background teaches one to think and become able to absorb the sciences. Without that basic reasoning knowledge we are doomed, I tell you, doomed.

  28. The main criterion for judging what degrees should be supported and what ones should not should be is the answer to the question, “How useful will the person obtaining this degree be to society?” I can see the usefulness of an English Literature course or a language course, but not of Meeja Studies. Also, not all science course are necessarily of use, e.g. Sociology, if you can call that a science.

    Also, anyone who obtains such a useful degree on the back of state help, but does not use it, should be made to repay any fee reduction obtained.

  29. John Mackie :

    I’m a libertarian myself and still believe that, if you have the necessary capability, you should go to University to study what you want instead of what some command economy is saying you should be forced to do by arbitrary dictat, financial or otherwise.

    That’s ok as long as you don’t expect the taxpayer to fund it.

  30. zenrules :

    No, Tom, a solid Arts background teaches one to think and become able to absorb the sciences. Without that basic reasoning knowledge we are doomed, I tell you, doomed.

    If we continue in the present direction we are doomed, and there is little sign that our ‘leaders’ grasp that point. It is little use being able to absorb the sciences if as a nation we cease to have significant involvement in them. I don’t believe the Japanese overtook the Americans, and UK, in several scientific areas because they had a good grounding in arts.

  31. I still maintain that up to the old School Cert. level, Arts and Sciences should have equal status. Specialisation should occur after this. BUT subjects such as the famed Media Studies should be consigned to extinction!

  32. I believe that education should not be the privilege of the few who can afford it but the right of all who wish to have it therefore it should be free.

  33. Donald :

    I believe that education should not be the privilege of the few who can afford it but the right of all who wish to have it therefore it should be free.

    Agreed, but teach sensible subjects!

  34. Zenrules – Agreed – English, Maths, Science, Geography and History should be compulsory. the rest should be optional.

    OZ – Castillian should be the universal language, mate, followed by Spanish and Portuguese as optional extras 🙂

  35. I’ll tell you the trouble with languages.

    Just before he retired, General de Gaulle made a state visit to London. At the press conference a British reporter asked Mme. de Gaulle what she wanted in retirement and she replied, in Franglais, “When my ‘usband rrhetires, I want a penis”. A French civil servant, with better English pronounciation than she, leant over and whispered, “Madame, I believe you meant to say ‘When my husband retires, I want happiness'”.

    I’ll get my coat.

    OZ

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