David Thompson


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June 29, 2012


Wm T Sherman

Times are tough. I was recently confronted on a dark street by a gang of unemployed philosophy majors. They threated to deconstruct me if I didn't hand over my wallet.


Thomas Sowell takes a look at political rhetoric.

'Free' should be on that list somewhere.



'Hampstead Twats'.

Laurie Penny lives the film Withnail and I.



“Laurie Penny lives the film Withnail and I.”

Thanks for that. Am bechortled.

“When I told my friends that I was leaving inner-city proto-bohemia and moving in with a man I’d met at work who was old enough to have worn Joy Division T-shirts before they were retro, a few eyebrows were raised.”

Oysters, bidets and affected squalor. Sorry, proto-bohemia. She’s the voice of the oppressed, you know.


Is there a higher education 'bubble'? There probably is, but I think the problem is even more complicated than some people think.

Universities began long, long before people in positions of political power decided there was a need for education to provide training for 'jobs' and practical skills for students. Indeed they began long before those in power decided there was a need for education, full stop. The basic university course - Bachelor of Arts - and the disciplines that tended to form such a course, such as philosophy, geometry, rhetoric, literature, and the like - was for a long, long time seen as the result of the 'disinterested pursuit of knowledge', and bore little relationship to any practical outcomes, such as jobs, or 'economic empowerment'. Many contemporary disciplines, especially in the humanities, are essentially the result of that, and still are their best when they facilitate the 'disinterested pursuit of knowledge'.

Complication 1) The social motivations - principally religious, I think - for higher education as a means to the 'disinterested pursuit of knowledge' have largely been forgotten. Education as a means of 'economic empowerment' and jobs has largely come to replace these original motivations, but of course they don't. The humanities courses are not and will never be good at preparing people for jobs. This can't be their principal motivation, and the sooner we stop mindlessly repeating this utilitarian claptrap of politicians, the better.

Complication 2) where there are markets for those who learn in the humanities, those markets tend to be quite significantly distorted by the fact that they are run by the public service. Again, this was not always the case! But it is obvious that those who gain a degree in the humanities will be the sorts who enter into education, or the arts (literature, music, painting, etc), or some job in administration or middle management on a bureaucracy somewhere. It's unlikely that this will be changed at any point in the foreseeable future. And if it did, where would it leave us? Old ways of recognising the value of these positions - royal patronage, philanthropy, donations, charitable societies - are largely defunct. I think it possible and desirable that these old ways, and the sort of thinking that went behind them, be revived, but again, it doesn't seem possible in the foreseeable.

No solutions from me, sorry. I just wish people would recognise that the "universities=jobs" equation is usually meaningless mumbo-jumbo.

(Oh, and this subject affects me in a ridiculous amount of ways, more than can fit in any one disclaimer.)


I probably should have re-read over that comment a bit more before sending; hope it still makes sense. I made it after a long day making a rather large number of things in the kitchen.



Whatever the additional complexities, the basic problem remains. If a university education isn’t approached with some element of economic utility – i.e., of students repaying their debt to the taxpayer – then who will want to fund it?



I'm disinterested in funding disinterested pursuits.


Tim T,

"the "universities=jobs" equation is usually meaningless mumbo-jumbo"

Actually I think you will find that most jobs worth having require a degree these days so your equation is way off, even if you discount all the vocational degrees (Architecture, law, surveying, dentistry, medicine, geology, engineering etc.)

Of course things would be much better for young people in the UK if our government & the middle-classes shared Thomas Sowells' & the Germans respect for the tradesman and offered children the opportunity for vocational training which is respected as much as a degree in twaddle.

As a building industry professional, I can report that, in my experience, the middle-classes show little sign of showing much respect to the plumbers, electricains etc. that they employ at the lowest possible rate and then do their best to avoid paying at all. It's no wonder kids are reluctant to learn real skills!


'Hampstead Twats'

I've just discovered Shouting at Cows. Bryans also wrote a cracking piece echoing much of what we've struggled with on this blog occasionally: the mindset of those types who read and write for the Guardian


David - I agree students paying off their debt is an eminently sensible way to fund a university education.
AC - Possibly you mean you are 'uninterested' in funding disinterested pursuits but fair enough, I see your point. That's another problem, isn't it, and it's been created by the decision of governments that university education is a public good and a right - hence all the taxpayer dollars that gets thrown its way.
Steve - we've seen the rise of a 'qualifications culture' in the last two decades or so, where more and more employers ask for a degree of some sort. But those qualifications aren't always necessary; maybe they never are. For instance, in spite of the popularity of journalism and creative writing degrees in Australian universities, the best writers I know of now steered clear of those degrees. They preferred to get involved in uni newspapers while doing law degrees, etc.

By the way, maybe the situation is very different in the UK than in Australia; here people in the trades profession generally earn much more than the humanities graduates.


TimT, I was hoping it was more amusing with "disinterested".


'But who's the more greedy and selfish - Michael Caine or these people?'

You have to have money before you can be greedy. Idiot.



It’s always a pleasure when you drop by.

“You have to have money before you can be greedy. Idiot.”

That’s a rather non-reciprocal definition of greed, then. One with which many parents of small children would probably disagree. Presumably, you think the person doing the earning, and having those earnings confiscated, isn’t terribly relevant? But why should notions of greed and selfishness apply only to people above a certain level of income? Isn’t this smiling opportunist being selfish and greedy? And what about socialists like Seamus Milne, who feels entitled to confiscate other people’s earnings to whatever extent suits him ideologically, or psychologically, and apparently regardless of whether this punishment helps anyone else? Perhaps, like Milne, you think that no-one could possibly need or put to good use more than whatever salary you regard as proper. But why should you or your proxies get to thwart other people’s lawful ambitions, simply because those ambitions are ones that you have no interest in or simply can’t imagine?

Either way, it doesn’t seem quite as simple as you’d have us believe.

Dr Cromarty

rv FAIL!
Greed is an inordinate desire to possess things - wealth, goods, objects etc. it is the desire that is important not the possession. It is closely related to envy as a moral failing.

Come back when you've learnt to use a dictionary.

Jonathan Apps

Thought this bout of totalitarian fantasy relevant. There's a lot to enjoy.


sackcloth and ashes

'Of course things would be much better for young people in the UK if our government & the middle-classes shared Thomas Sowells' & the Germans respect for the tradesman and offered children the opportunity for vocational training which is respected as much as a degree in twaddle'.

Nail, head, hammer. The conversion of polytechnics into 'new universities' was a disaster.

'Thought this bout of totalitarian fantasy relevant. There's a lot to enjoy'.

Students of photojournalism will be interested to see that the article in question is illustrated with close-up shots of angry protesters - and no wider-angle photos showing how many people were in the demos in question.

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