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.