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Monday, July 16, 2007

Simon Barnes, in the Times Online...

...talks about his university experience.

'... None of us was reading for marks. It was an adventure, and the tutors and professors were largely sympathetic to this attitude: I attended seminars on Dylan and Burroughs, which were no help at all for the degree. What mattered was being thrilled by literature, by great ideas and words, words, words. Turning me loose among all these books was like locking up a lush in a brewery.

It was a time when you could discover a new poet, meet a lifelong friend, fall in love and completely alter your world view, all within a single term; and then do it all again next term. I never, for one minute gave thought to what I would do to earn my living. Nor was this view peculiar to the English Department.

Education has changed course since then. Those poor young people at university nowadays send me their CVs and have five-year plans and targets and loans to pay. For them, education is about transforming themselves into an effective economic unit.

Education should be wild, exciting, intoxicating. Engineers, medics and lawyers must of necessity modify that view, but only to an extent. These days, more and more tertiary education establishments specialise in courses that look like a short-cut to a sexy job: you can study sport, or journalism, or television, or pop music, even fashion, for God’s sake. I imagine educationists sitting around a table: “Let’s have a course in sports journalism! They’ll love it! They’ll come flocking in! Brilliant idea! Carried unanimously.”

Then some awkward fellow asks: “Yes, but what are we actually going to teach them?” Ugly silence. “Ah, yes . . . now there you may have hit on the one snag in whole thing . . . but never mind, let’s go ahead and do it anyway.”

The error – the heresy – is to think that the entire purpose of education is to get you a better job: that the entire function of an individual life is to make as much money as possible. No one said to me, read Finnegans Wake and you’ll make a bloody fortune; that’s the whole point of reading the damn thing.

It’s a terrible shame, and I feel horribly sad for the people who must go through it all, carrying the burden of economic expectation rather then the spirit of exploration and adventure. We were all too busy trying to suss out the meaning of life to be sidetracked by such side-issues as careers, until the time came to meet reality head on. That hasn’t stopped a number of old university friends from being conspicuously successful.

The purpose of modern education is to make you a more wealthy person. But when I read English at Bristol, the idea was that you ended up a richer person.'