Open Eye: First Tuesday: Enlightenment, at the end of the tunnel

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You slave away for five years, sometimes more, and eventually collect that well-earned degree. Then what do you do? According to the Chancellor, you pick yourself up, shake yourself down, and start all over again.

Astonishingly, many students do not even opt for a higher degree: they decide to go for another Bachelor's, rather than for a Master's, an MRes or even a Doctorate. Nor do they do it just once - some graduates go round again and again (and, sometimes, again).

In an age where everything is quite clearly being dumbed down, in which children can't spell and can't multiply by ten without a calculator, this lust for learning is remarkable.

The Editor of the Guardian said in a speech recently that what was happening was not dumbing down: the term should be banned, he said, because in fact we were all "wising up". Well, wise up is not a new expression, but the idea of banning figures of speech you don't like, is. I mean: it's not as if we are talking political correctness here.

Standards have deteriorated, and not only in the posh papers (what used to be called the less-popular end of the market).

The other day the Editor of the Mirror was reported to have referred to "a new working operandi". There's nothing like hedging your bets by dropping half of a Latin expression in front of readers who are not up to O-level English. Trouble is, he dropped the wrong half, and finished up with "a new working of working". He obviously thought they wouldn't understand modus. But every viewer of cop shows knows about the modus operandi, familiarly referred to as "the m-o".

As for BBC English, how about: "Not a single one of the residents were concerned..."

Perhaps they take their lead from Alan Yentob, who described Jill Dando as "a great loss". Not her death, or the result of her death, please note, but Miss Dando herself.

While on the subject, a new newspaper, distributed free of charge on the London Underground, reported that detectives were "investigating photographs of Jill Dando emerging from her Fulham home... but Scotland Yard could not say if they had been taken before or after the murder."

Almost makes you want to ask for your money back. No doubt it's how the mind is affected when you start to investigate photographs.

Dumbing down? More than 50 per cent of Sun readers think it is a Labour paper. Thankfully, we don't know what the rest think.

And yet, and yet... There quite clearly is a popular appetite for education. In addition to the good old Learning Zone (one million viewers a night, six million - not all the same ones, apparently - every week), a whole new string of learning channels has been created: Discovery, History, Science, National Geographic among them.

People are ploughing enthusiastically through the Internet in search of information (there's more stored on-line than in all the libraries of the world, we're told) and installing on-disk encyclopaedias to learn ever more.

Bookshops are becoming vast emporia (sorry: megastores), encompassing anything to do with the printed word, and some of it with aural and visual options, too. The bigger ones now include a coffee shop, where you can browse before purchase: a very civilised - but possibly not very hygienic - innovation.

The quality of staff is no better than, say, the assistants at any high- street retail chain (I'll probably never forget being asked: Treasure Island? Do you know the name of the author? I apologise if you've heard it before) but at least people are buying books again. And the stores that, hopefully, will suffer will be the ones stocking only best-sellers.

Meanwhile, on-line bookstores like our website link with, are offering something around one and a half million titles, often at discount prices, and delivered to your home within a couple of days.

Fewer people (I know: the BBC would have said Less) are buying newspapers, but more are buying books. I don't know when, with all this learning output on TV, they find the time to read them.

Perhaps, like the OU student, they put aside a minimum period of fifteen hours, the equivalent of two working days, to do it, week after week.

But however do they then manage to fit in a trip to the local, as so many people do, in order to compete in the pub quiz?

Q: Who wrote The Dynamics of An Asteroid?

A: Professor Moriarty.

The reassuring news is that there is indeed an eagerness to acquire knowledge - almost, as it used to be, for its own sake.

A friend was complaining the other day about the performance of his Mazda car.

"That," I told him, cheerily, "is what comes of buying a car named after a light bulb."

"Or even," he suggested, "after a king of Ancient Persia."


"Mazda, the Enlightening One," he said. "Hence the light bulb." He even gave me the dates.

There might be hope, yet.