‘Useless’ degrees and ignorant dogmatists

Rishi Sunak has a BA from Oxford and an MBA from Stanford, but don’t let that fool you. He has no understanding of what education is for or he does a damn good job of pretending not to understand. 

I’m not referring to his  ‘military service’ for 18-year-olds. That’s more a sign of insanity than ignorance. The idea that teaching people how to handle lethal weapons and follow instructions mindlessly,  that such would be good for teenagers, is plain insane for anyone who respects human life.

I’m thinking of the linked idea that there are ‘useless degrees’ being offered to young people that will be of no assistance in securing a job.  I wouldn’t dispute that such degrees exist, although they’re not as common as some would like to suggest. Media Studies and Sociology  are frequent targets of the political right. In fact, Media Studies addresses the source of just about all our knowledge of the political world and beyond; the right would rather that wasn’t looked into too carefully. It might annoy Rupert Murdoch. Sociology helps people understand how society is put together, how different groups in society wield different levels of power, and how that has implications for politics and society in general. It too is very relevant to helping young people understand the world they’re living in, and of course the right would rather such matters were not scrutinised too closely.

No, I’m talking about the fact that Sunak and the Conservative Party – and, it appears, the Labour Party – don’t understand what a university is for. I’d recommend reading John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University. There they’d be shocked to find that studying at third level isn’t so you can get a ‘good’ job afterwards: the primary idea is to help young people understand themselves and the world, to think intelligently and logically, to be more aware of the complexity of the human race.  Yes, by all means, if that leads to a decent job, great. And it should. But studying at university solely so you can get onto the corporate ladder is a perversion of education.


Only when we literally know what we’re talking about should we make pronouncements about what’s needed in education. ‘Useless degrees’? Just ten years ago, the American Federal Reserve bank found that only some 27% of people were working in jobs that had a direct correlation to the subjects they studied in university.


Yes, studying at university is now very, very expensive – shamefully so. But that doesn’t make the pursuit of understanding ‘useless’.

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