Philip Hensher: How did we ever get by without degrees in golf tourism?

'What good novels Dickens might have written with a BA in Creative Writing'
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The Independent Online

Sometimes a university will produce an idea so simple and so brilliant you wonder how we ever got along without it before. Abertay Dundee University has just announced that it is to start an honours BA course in golf tourism. Golf, the head of the university was explaining yesterday, is vital to the economy of Scotland. Astonishingly, no university has thought to fill the gap with an entire degree in the subject before. But now, Vice-Chancellor Bernard King was excitedly explaining yesterday, the imprimatur of Abertay Dundee University has been lent to the ancient and august discipline of Golf Tourism.

Well, thank God for that. It's long weighed heavily on the mind of anyone who contemplates the subject that no one involved in golf or tourism in this country has the faintest idea of how to run it. And now Bernard's university has come up with the explanation. They just don't have a degree in the subject. Instead, it seems that golf clubs in the country have taken the decidedly unprofessional attitude that someone bright and able will probably be able to pick up the job, despite the lack of specific academic qualifications.

I had a look, and discovered that – this is almost incredible, but true – hardly anyone who runs a golf course in this country is in possession of a directly golf-related degree. One poor sap in Hampshire, indeed, is struggling along with a degree in ancient history from Cambridge. And the problem is not limited to golf. I carried out a small survey at my local bookshop and found, to my horror, that not one single member of staff had a degree in Selling Books. No wonder this country is in such a mess, when education so conspicuously fails to address the direct needs of the workforce.

So, let us celebrate the brilliant and innovative nature of Abertay Dundee University by paying a visit to their website. This is a wonderfully new and modern and exciting document, and will particularly encourage anyone interested in their new courses in "Sports Coatching and Health". Spelling, you see, is not a priority here, busy as they all are in meeting the needs of employers. The merits of the university are obviously huge and gigantic and enormous, although perhaps not very much dwelt on. "We spend," the website says, "nearly twice as much per student on computers." I don't know whether that sentence ought to finish "than an ant" or "than Harvard", but it's presumably a very good thing, or they wouldn't mention it.

Anyway, for all those brilliant, forward-going, modern sorts of people who know that after the age of 18 they will need nothing but an education in Golf, you will be thrilled to learn that "Abertay has more networking opportunities than Oxford!". I am far too old to go back to university, but I am sure everyone will agree that the younger generation will benefit from shedding our dozy assumption that you had gone to university to get an education rather than "network".

All in all, it is really astonishing how the world ever got by without specific BA courses in specific jobs. And here I have to make a confession on my own behalf, and that of almost my entire profession. I have no qualification at all in journalism. I have checked, and hardly a single one of my colleagues has a degree in Writing Columns, even though the University of Romford now offers, I understand, a three-year intensive course in the subject. How much the quality of daily newspapers would be improved if we had all benefited from a specific education in the subject! Happily, more and more novelists are, now, taking degrees in Creative Writing, and I am sure we all look forward to the inevitable improvement in the quality of English literature as a result. What good novels Dickens might have written if only he had had the benefits the young now have.

Of course, some people might take the old-fashioned attitude that a degree in Golf Tourism might not fit you for anything but a career in Golf Tourism. But, as I am sure Vice-Chancellor Bernard will agree, nothing could be further from the truth. If, for instance – it has been known to happen – five or six years after graduating, someone decides that they can't stick the bloody game one more week and decides to move into another field, the options are wide open. From working at a golf course, for instance, he could move to working in a golf shop.

And he might even find some prospects quite outside golf. Should an opportunity arise, for instance, making sandwiches at Pret-à-Manger, then his experience and education may not necessarily prove an insuperable barrier. His new employers may concede that, although his education, on paper, has directed him towards golf, a young man of parts may, in time, be able to change direction, and through native ability discover that his education has entirely prepared him for a career stuffing baps. And, if not, by then, the University of Abertay Dundee will surely be offering a three year Bachelor of Arts degree in the subject.