Terence Blacker: Students' laziness is an education in itself

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The Independent Online

They will be settling in this week, all those nervous, excited first-year university students. During Freshers' Week, they will sign up for societies and clubs, often more out of duty than enthusiasm. They may go out drinking with their peers, engaging in edgy conversation and wishing they were at home. A few may even wonder how on earth they will be able to survive three years of university life.

It gets better. Someone should tell them that. The strangely rootless life of a student takes a while to get used to but, in the end, most people enjoy it. In the meantime, those quaking new undergraduates can take heart from a survey published this week which suggests that British students are among the most evolved and civilised in the whole of Europe.

To be fair, those were not the precise words of the report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), which had interviewed 15,000 first- and second-year students. "Lazy", "low effort", "least hard-working in Europe" were among the terms which have appeared in the press coverage. The report compares our undergraduates to those of other nations. While our team was found to spend a very respectable average of 12.5 hours a week on studying, the swotty Germans spend 35 hours.

Under the new Brownite culture, the good citizen is deemed to be the hard-working one, a drone who contributes uncomplainingly to the gross national product without causing trouble. To that end, universities tend to be seen as forcing-grounds for the job market, and the only criterion of success for students is a good degree.

Those sensible students, clocking in their 12.5 hours of study every week, have seen that this is a reductive, impoverished view of university life. The graduates who emerge, pale and blinking, into the outside world with a gleaming qualification will often have achieved less in real terms than the kind of student who has scandalised the Higher Education Policy Institute.

Those three or four years represent an opportunity to grow up, to meet unlikely people, to make mistakes, to pursue unlikely enthusiasms, to discover, above all, a sense of independence and individuality which will serve them well in adult life.

Institutes may scold, governments may offer dire warnings, parents may despair, but the student who will derive most benefit from university will often be the one who does not become blinkered and cloistered in his pursuit of academic excellence before experience.

Perhaps that should be "her pursuit". The director of Hepi, Bahram Bekhradnia, has claimed that female students work harder than male, presumptuously concluding that "boys, it would seem, are down the pub, while the girls are in the library".

Here is the authentic, prim voice of modern Britain, so certain in its unthinking division of the world into workers and boozers. Those who have the privilege and opportunity of spending three years, thinking, studying and having fun, before they enter the world of work, should ignore the baleful influence of responsible grown-ups and enjoy their independence.

Once they have settled into their new lives, the freshers might take aside their counterparts from around the world and quietly tell them how privileged they are. Over the coming months, they will be able to acquire the truly British talent of not working too hard, of enjoying a full and free life away from employment.

Noddies: a stitch-up too far

Never mind the dodgy phone-ins, the most depressing act of broadcasting dishonesty involves Alan Yentob, the creative director of the BBC, and his fraudulent interviews.

Being a busy arts guru, Yentob, did not always have time to talk to his guests on the Imagine series.

A researcher did it for him. Later, "noddies" of the presenter were edited in, as if a conversation had taken place.

Has there ever been such a pathetic con? In his programmes, Yentob likes to be filmed buddying up to the greats of the arts world, but stitching up interviews goes way beyond harmless egotism. It is not merely dishonest but insults the intelligence of viewers by bringing the cult of the celebrity presenter to arts programmes.

* Customers of prostitutes will be tremendously cheered, and perhaps a little titillated, by the ITV series The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, which starts on Thursday.

The business had been receiving some negative publicity recently, and the knowledge that thousands of girls are being tricked, enslaved, raped and imprisoned as part of the sex trade might have taken some of the fun out of being a punter.

ITV has come to the rescue. In what its publicity department calls a "naughty new drama", Billie Piper will provide the age-old fantasy of the pretty, young, sexually enthusiastic whore. "Why do I do it?" she asks. "I love sex and money. I enjoy the sex. I'm lazy. I'm my own boss."

It will get the ratings, of course, and, under the guise of being a new Sex And The City, will provide PR for what is a sad, destructive way of earning a living. Billie Piper last appeared in the series Doctor Who.

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