June 04, 2013

Employability versus The Traditional University Degree - An Open Letter to Sir David Bell (part 3)

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading.
The Socratic dialogue continues.

Part 1 of this dialectical series was began by me with an open letter published on the Huffington Post and on Ambitious Minds which addressed Sir David Bell who had made suggestions in the Times newspaper that a growing push towards "employability" of university degrees was putting the 'intellectual integrity of degrees at risk.'

In Part 2 Sir David Bell responded to my riposte and gave his own counter-argument. I have since published what he had to say on my blog which you can read it here. Sir David Bell made a number of fair and interesting points.

In Part 3 of the dialectic I would like to give further response by broadening my argument, and by citing more of the commentators and authorities that I've been following and reading assiduously in recent months. To begin with, I would like to present three testimonies that all give a dim account of the "status quo" university education.

Firstly, to start with Dale J Stephens (@DaleJStephens), the founder of the Uncollege movement said of his university experience in the US:

"Going to college is meant to be the culmination of 12 years of hard work, determination and study. You're told that if you get good grades, ace your tests and do lots of extracurriculars, you'll get into a good university. The reasoning seems solid when you're at secondary school - after all, everyone tells you that university graduates earn more and are less likely to be unemployed.

I enrolled... However any idealism was quickly squashed. For the most part, people weren't there to learn - they were there to party, and hangovers permitting, learn something along the way. I started asking questions."
[Wired Magazine, March/April, 2013]

Stephen added:
"[College] rewards conformity rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning and theory rather than application."
Secondly, Alex Aldridge (@AlexAldridgeUK) of the UK legal tabloid, Legal Cheek said of his university experience here:
"A turning point in my life was when I ran out of excuses to do more higher education. On reflection, my English literature degree (four years), GDL (one year) and BPTC (one year) amount to a massive waste of time and money. Indeed, if I could do it all again, I wouldn't even go to university. 
But perhaps, as a middle class person whose university lecturer parents placed a high value on education, these were just the hoops I was destined to jump through. I just thank God that law schools weren't offering free further courses to their jobless alumni – as BPP announced it is to do last week – when I was graduating..."
(If we can go off on a tangent for a moment: on a side point I should flag that my recent tweet on Jeremy Paxman generated a lot of interest, even though it stated the interest. I suppose, because as Orwell said, "to see what is in front of one's nose requires a constant struggle". Here's what I said in said tweet:

A lot of people responded rousingly. Yes it was stating the obvious; but frankly it hasn't been said. So this is definitely something I would like to explore in more detail in the future: of how it's an almost absolute article of faith that middle class people will and must go to university. For, to not go would be an abomination and a act of secular profanity. Though I did write a piece that touches on this theme entitled, 'Law School: the Default Career Choice.')

Thirdly, I gave my take on my university experience on the Working for YOUth blog here:
"And of course not going to university was a non-starter: everyone went to uni, you were told from staff that you go to uni, society told you that you go to uni and your parents wouldn’t have had it any other way. So I looked at my strengths and went with the vague idea that a degree in Law and French could find me a position of considerable emolument - and so equipped with this specialist knowledge off I went to uni! 
University was a different ball game from school.

I didn’t exactly enjoy it, nor, looking back, did I get much out of it. There was 6 hours of class a week and nearly 5 months of holidays a year. This went on for four years. I longed for the structure, routine and guidance from staff like I had at my high school but it seemed you were an adult now and had to work it out for yourself. So I spent my semesters kinda coasting by and did the whole student thing that TV told you you’re supposed to do – drink and lie in!

Summers were spent gardening and in the end got a 2:1. What a relief that was!

And so I left university looking for that vague position of considerable emolument that I’d been pursuing for the previous 4 years. But I got a rude awakening. With the whole financial crisis thing still going on jobs were scarce and I learnt a few new things: employers wanted professional experience, they wanted strong CVs, required strong professional skills and competencies and an individual who knew exactly what they wanted to do.

But how could someone with a vague idea that a piece of paper was the ticket to a position of considerable emolument get one of these jobs? The reality was they couldn’t.

And why was I so unprepared for the world of work? Well, like school, university was rather scant on the career guidance. There was one full time adviser for around 500 law students; there was no professional experience or internships offered or encouraged; there were no classes or guidance on professional skills or even on how to prepare yourself for the legal industry; there was no CV classes or interview classes provided."
From this I would like to make a number of points which have struck me in recent times:

Firstly, the Huffington Post recently reported here that many university degrees are no more demanding than a part-time job. That certainly spoke for me and I can say confidently that the report spoke for many of my friends and peers.

The second point is associated to the above. The following assertion was uttered by an American academic who I know, but who must go unnamed as it was said strictly off-record. He said that it's pretty much accepted that many college degrees are pretty much a "holding pen" for young people. I found this is a very apt description and felt that it applies just as equally to the situation in the UK and Ireland.

Fourthly, information and skills deficit is filled by the stench of crony bootlegged nepotism.


Robert peston

Fifth, if the world has changed, then education needs to change.

Economist lady


Youtube vid on my blog

At 1 hour 2 minutes of this video Hitchens says Orwell didnt go to university, nor did gore Vidal:



The legal academy was old and calcified and way out of step with the times. The culture was that the professors and lecturers were upon high; men and women who handed down stone tablet of accepted knowledge and wisdom. 

This culture of deference was thought terminating in that preached a "step in line, know your place" mentality. 

Only when I got really down and out that I realised that I could carry as much freedom and liberty to be seen, heard and regarded as an authority. 

A stance now vindicated by Newton Emerson.

Blind faith for old professions and degree pathways that haven't changed curriculum to meet new world

The article, 'Glut of graduates threatens hope of career in law' was published June 23 but stated the self-evident that had been ignored, unmentioned and overlooked for years.

It had been reported on in America many times before, like here and in the Slate Magazine feature, 'The Real Problem With Law Schools: They train too many lawyers.'

Finally, research proves 'Job advantage for graduates with work experience'.

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