The Emperor's New Clothes (16/12/12)

Need a degree to get on? Not if our most respected experts are anything to go by, says English graduate Matthew Bell

Share
Related Topics

So. Farewell then, Sir Patrick Moore. You wore a monocle, you gazed at the stars, and Britain was a better place for having you. But hold on – it says here you were a self-taught amateur. What, no degree? No first year gaining a basic understanding of the core theoretical principles before in-depth explorations of key aspects of the universal cosmos? Nope: your mum gave you, aged six, G F Chambers' The Story of the Solar System, and the rest you picked up.

It's one thing to teach yourself crochet, but astrophysics? Sir Patrick was not afraid, after a long squint at the sky, to say: "We just don't know!" But what he did know was that you don't need a degree to know a lot. It's a useful reminder that, as we reported last week, it can now cost £100,000 to graduate.

A university education can be a wonderful thing. And there are professions where it is essential to receive instruction: medicine and nuclear physics spring to mind. But, in other disciplines, do we set too much store by a wax-sealed certificate? An English degree should be three years of reading books. You don't need to take out a mortgage-sized loan to do that.

Elizabeth David reinvented British cooking without setting foot in a polytechnic. Anna Wintour rules fashion with no formal training. Richard Branson, Philip Green and Alan Sugar all made their fortunes after leaving school at 16. The enthusiasm of the hungry amateur is a force to be encouraged, not crushed by course modules.

This is the season of pantomime: how much funnier it is to see a friend or neighbour dressed up as Widow Twankey than a celebrity pro eking out a pension. How much louder we cheer the amateur jockey who wins the Grand National. How much sweeter tastes the home-made cake.

And when it all goes horribly wrong, an amateur is easier to forgive. Just think of the Spanish woman who carried out a botched DIY restoration on the 19th-century fresco in her local church. Her version of the Ecce Homo has drawn tens of thousands of paying visitors to Borja. Could a professional marketing campaign have managed that?

React Now

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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine