John Walsh: Is university going to be worth it?

Share
Related Topics

The Coalition is going degree-tastic. They're expanding the number of university places available to students with fewer than three As at A-level; they're going to allow universities which charge less than £7,500 per annum to attract more students – up to 20,000 more. Not only that. Students, according to this week's Government White Paper, will soon be giddy with empowerment. New measures will "allow" them to rate their lecturers as part of a students' charter or review; and "allow" them to complain about their courses.

Shall we see student power having a real say in whether their courses are satisfactory, their lecturers law-abiding, sober and helpful, and their economics course sufficiently respectful of K Marx? I doubt it. You can imagine what'll happen to the "charter" that results from students' complaints; the complaints will be carefully re-cast as interesting suggestions and incorporated into a senior-common-room review of teaching across the disciplines.

Much more likely is this scenario: students will bypass the university's benign paternalistic attentions, and start telling each other: it ain't worth it. Through my children, I know a lot of first-year students – all at institutions that intend to charge £9,000 a year – whose conversations, at the end of the academic year, haven't been about drink, sex or 4am essay crises; they've been about the cost-effectiveness of their studies.

"My course offers nine lectures and seminars a week," said one. "That's less than two a day. And they never tell you what the seminar subject is, so you never know what to read." "History undergrads at my place do 30 essays across three terms," said another, "That's one a week. I've been set four all year. Frankly, I've been bored to death." "In the first term, they gave us a two-hour workshop on how to use the internet," said a third. "We all know how to use the flipping internet." And all their deliberations, after an hour of comparing notes, came down to a chorus: "It isn't worth £9,000 a year." The teaching was worth "about £500". The intellectual stimulation and on-campus convivium was worth about £1,000 a year...

The financial computation went on and on – hardly surprising, because it's the students who'll be responsible for repaying the "loan". And when you imagine these fee-based gripes extending beyond a gathering of south-London students, and spreading across the social networks on Facebook and Twitter ("Don't apply to Course X at Y University – waste of money") I fear we'll see a high rate of attrition.

David Willetts, universities minister, said he "doubted whether any institutions would have to fold as a result of his measures". He must be dreaming. Allowing universities to charge maximum fees, then encouraging others to undercut them, is a spectacular example of shooting oneself in the polished, academic foot.

If the greats of literature had to sell their ideas ...

As the publishing industry squawks and flaps and runs around the farmyard wondering what will happen next in the digital revolution, there's much talk about "a new economic model" being needed in the business of getting writers' effusions into the hands of readers. One of the neatest is the brainchild of John Mitchinson, who has interrupted his work on the QI gravy train to invent Unbound, a new "online group-buying site".

It works this way. Instead of an author approaching an agent or publisher with an idea for a book and three sample chapters, the author prepares a pitch for a book that he or she hasn't yet started writing, and uploads it to the Unbound website. Online readers can inspect the pitch and decide whether or not to back it, starting at £10 a head. When enough of them have pledged support, hey presto, the book gets written.

Simple, huh? But how would classic works of the past have fared if their prospective readers had had only a brief pitch to judge them on? "Um, it's about a chap very like me, who remembers lots of stuff about his past after dipping a fairy cake in some tea. I'm planning about 3,000 pages..."; "Well, it's an allegorical epic poem in three parts about my encounters with people in Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, drawing on medieval Christian theology and Thomist philosophy..."; "It charts a day in the life of a Jewish ad salesman in Dublin who's worried that his wife will have it off with someone else around 4pm, and he meets a student teacher in a maternity clinic and – well, that's about it, really."

Wigging out in a wimple is just not possible

The behaviour of fans at rock concerts has become as formulaic as ballet positions, though not as elegant. Some favour the right-arm-outstretched-to-the-stage tribute that accompanies a cry of "Yeeeaaahh!" Others prefer the both-arms-above-the-head-as-though-fighting-off-attack-of-killer-bees look. Younger elements in the crowd tend to adopt a both-arms-out, palms-extended, calm-down-dear gesture, as though trying to placate an enormous assailant.

The weather, however, has made a mockery of all this. The dignity of rock fans across the nation is being severely compromised by the incessant rain. When I went to see The Killers and Kaiser Chiefs in Hyde Park last week, the heavens opened and stewards helpfully dished out lightweight transparent cagoules to the crowd. They fit tightly around the shoulders and your head pokes up through a hole to fit inside a sort of polythene wimple.

Yes, it keeps you more-or-less dry – but just try adopting any of the characterful poses of the modern rocker when you're wrapped tightly inside a plastic condom. Pointing at the stage becomes a pathetic single-finger gesture at the level of your trouser pocket. Playing air guitar is impossible unless you stick to the ninth and tenth frets. Attempting enthusiastic hand gestures makes you look like a penguin agitating his flippers. It's demeaning, that's what it is.



j.walsh@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own