Back in 2010 I wrote about the attempt to shut down Paleography at KCL in London.
This morning’s news reminded me of this, with the government announcement that fees for humanities courses are to double.
Normally all that would happen is that I would mutter ‘Stupid, f*cking stupid’ into my muesli, and that J would agree with me and warn me about my blood pressure.
But then I made the mistake of listening to the Education Minister’s announcement. And that really annoyed me with the fatuous comments about producing graduates that were ‘job ready’.
No. That speaks of a view where there is no change and everyone carries on as before, just like in Bob Menzies’ world of white picket fences and where it’s perpetually 1954.
Change, unpredictable change, is the norm. Things happen. Shit happens. Just look at 2020.
When I first went to university in 1974, electronic calculators were an exotic and bulky novelty, people used typewrites and memos were still written on yellow forms.
No laptops. No desktop computers. No email. No world wide web. No mobile phones.
Now my degree was in psychology (mostly neurophysiology and animal behaviour) with a bit of biochemistry and applied maths along the way.
I was in love with my subject and I started a PhD (all this was before Margaret Thatcher’s cuts and ‘realism and responsibilty’). I didn’t finish my PhD for a whole set of complex reasons but along the way I learned about computers, data management, word processing, project planning and the rest. I also learned some good stories, how to talk to people and persuade them that what I was saying made sense.
And these skills were the skills that got me jobs. The skills learned along the way. Yes, teaching Wordstar was crap, but it paid the rent…
No one ever wanted me for my expertise in primate behaviour, but they did want me for these other IT and management skills that I had learned along the way and all the other ones that I learned later on the job.
And that’s the problem with the idea that universities are there to produce ‘job ready’ graduates.
No, what we need are people who are flexible, adaptable and prepared to keep on learning how to do new things, the sort of thing that a good humanities or science education gives, the ability to acquire knowledge and feed the curiosity rat – not the reductionist mechanical view of education that generates squads of suit wearing drones, devoid of any intellectual curiosity …