You don’t have to be weird to get a First at university...

We love the idea that the degree system misses our unique gifts

Share

Like the divisions that organise our football teams, the divisions that organise our degree system are deeply misleading to the uninitiated.

League Two doesn’t sound too shabby, but actually it’s the lowest tier in the professional game; the name of an ordinary degree seems to imply it’s perfectly all right, when actually it’s a complete catastrophe.  Then there are the colloquialisms that decorate the formal terms, from the pleasant idea of the Third as a “gentleman’s degree” to the high honour of a “congratulatory” First, and most of all the endearing rhyming slang that reconfigures the classes as Geoffs, Attilas, Desmonds and Thoras.

It all lends weight to the idea that degree classifications are chaotic, unreliable groupings which tell you less about a person’s intellectual capacity than they do about their outlook on life. And yesterday, in an article in The Times, Robert Winston seemed to take the same view. Firsts, he said, were far from the best evidence that someone would make a good addition to his laboratory. “I would rather have young people around me who developed other interests at university.”

Lord Winston – who took a pass-fail medical degree, alas, barring us from an analysis of his own outside interests – has since disowned that argument. Whatever he meant, his phrasing is less interesting than the satisfaction with which his words were greeted. We love this idea, as we love the fact that WH Auden and Christopher Hitchens both got Thirds. The system, it suggests, misses our gifts. Lord Winston was finally speaking the truth we have all long known: those useless brainiacs couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery, or an explosion in a laboratory.

But apply a bit of Lord Winston’s own rigour to that contention, which relies on the idea that those with Firsts worked so hard they didn’t have time for a life, whereas those with 2:1s chose to cultivate their friendships and hobbies instead. It’s a pleasing idea for the 85 per cent of graduates who don’t get a top-class degree, for obvious reasons, but isn’t it also a bit bonkers?

How, for example, does it account for the annoying few who were so clever that they got a First despite spending every evening in the bar, or for the intellectually limited who eschewed all fun so that they might avoid a dreaded Desmond? It seems wildly unfair to assume that the cleverest are also the weird ones. The democratisation of the public sphere, so that no one bats an eyelid when Carol Vorderman (a Thora, sad to say) gets put in charge of a maths taskforce, is fine up to a point. But let’s draw a line when it comes to the laboratory. If I’m wrong, consider this: if they really are all a bunch of weirdos, where the hell else are we going to put them?

Twitter: @archiebland

React Now

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

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is currently recruitin...

SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND DARTFORD

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

SECONDARY SUPPLY TEACHERS NEEDED IN AND AROUND SWALE

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...

Geography Teacher, full time supply role, Thanet Academy

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The School Randstad are proud to...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week