We don't need no education

Education, education, education. In ten years the Labour government has managed to erode away the reputation of the top British universities so much so that, according to Professor Alison Richard, vice-chancellor of Cambridge, Britain's reputation as a world leader for university education could be lost within 10 years. Currently, Britain has the second and third best universities in the world and has 29 universities in the top 200 according to rankings. It is not so much government neglect in this area but a “dumbing down” culture that appears to have developed over the Cool Britannia years.

Firstly, there is the perception that we can all become millionaires over night. Either go on pop idol or big brother and you're sorted for life. It's an obsession with celebrity. For those that don't make, there is always education. The government is, as we know, obsessed with targets. One of their education targets is to have 50 per cent of all 18- to 30-year-olds to have entered higher education by 2010. Why? What is the point? We should not deny anyone the opportunity, but some people are simply not cut out for higher education yet they are pushed in to when they would probably be better off doing something else. We are living in a dreamland society where no one can fail - either you will get that record deal and live like Posh and Becks or you will go to university and get you top class degree. The problem is, whilst you may get that piece of paper with MA Hons written on it, it won't be worth a the paper it is written on when it comes to cashing it in because every one else will have one too and employers know that, on its own, is meaningless.




1. I doubt there are many potential Einsteins who think that Big Brother and Pop Idol are a career alternative.

2. Professor Richard might like to deal with the mote in the eye of our universities. Trendy subjects, and trendy approaches to traditional subjects (e.g. post-normal science, deconstructionist approaches to literature, mathematical economics), will drag the academic quality down, regardless of intake.

3. Is it not rather racist of Professor Richard to assume that foreign students will drag down the academic quality? Her point is specifically about foreign students and not wider intake more generally. You cannot close your funding gap with British students, because of restrictions on how much you can charge. It seems to me that taking some of the elite of other nations is more likely to drag the standards up than down, relative to taking the mediocre dregs of our own education system, who you rightly identify as being unsuitable for higher education.

4. And then there is the question of incentives - who is more likely to study hard and think carefully, the foreign student who has to pay full whack to get a qualification, or the British student, part of whose education costs are subsidised, and the other part may never have to be repaid, for whom the qualification will make little difference to their career prospects?

5. The success of Buckingham University, our only privately-funded, fully fee-paying university, which has a high proportion of foreign students, would seem to give the lie to Professor Richard's fear of foreigners and the market (how very Cambridge).

Yes, but there aren't many Einsteins!   But it's those who aren't exactly Einstein who often think that Big Brother is the way to fame or those who aren't Einstein who have been awarded high marks throughout their school days and won a place a university only to find out later in life they actually aren't that bright or talented and end up wasting their late teens and early twenties.  The other impact of this, of course, is it devalues the achievements of those who are genuine Einsteins - hence the value of a Cambridge degree will not be what it is today in ten years time.

Why has this utopian myth of guranteed success in life if you go to university or get spotted on some talent show come about?

As for your comments on foreign students, I completely agree.

Freebornjohn pointed out a nice example of the dumbing down of science teaching, which he found on the wellingtongrey.net website. (Clue: see footnote to No.3)

Thank you for linking to my site.


It's a great example of dumbing down. Having had a closer look at your site, I like your Open Letter to the AQA and Dept for Education even more. This is very serious. I think I'll create a fresh article to link to it, so it shows up on our home page, rather than in Comments. Did you get a reply from AQA, and have you sent this to the Dept for Education and to your MP?