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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

In defense of 'Mickey Mouse degrees'

Three cheers for Universities UK, who have today hit back at those siren voices who have been systematically grabbing cheap headlines by attacking legitimate degree subjects.

They have responded to a report by the Taxpayers’ Alliance, an umbrella group that lobbies for lower taxes and allegedly highlights public sector “waste” to support its case, which has singled out two Welsh institutions – the University of Glamorgan and the Welsh College of Horticulture – for issuing “non-degrees”.

The Western Mail tells us that Glamorgan’s science-fiction and culture degree, and equestrian psychology, available as a foundation degree at the Welsh College of Horticulture in Mold, Flintshire, have appeared on a hit-list published by the Alliance, along with golf management, available at Inverness.

What is most peculiar about this list is that the Taxpayers' Alliance is the sort of organisation that might attract Tories who list horse riding and golf as a favoured pursuit or hobby. They would be the first to complain if their golf course or stables were badly managed. Both of these leisure activities are multi-million pound businesses requiring considerable acumen and skill from the people who run them. These courses are precisely the sort of vocational training we need if we are to succeed economically. But don't let me distract from the very effective rebuttal from Universities UK:

“Had they [the Taxpayers’ Alliance] done a little more research, they would have found that these so-called ‘non-courses’ are in fact based on demand from employers and developed in association with them.

“Graduates on these courses are in demand from employers who are looking for people with specific skills alongside the general skills acquired during a degree such as critical-thinking, team-working, time-management and IT skills – a point lost on the authors of this rag-bag of prejudices and outdated assumptions. Students know this – which is why these courses are often over-subscribed and have high employability rates.”

"A degree in golf management would combine elements of business and accounting and prepare students to work in an industry worth millions to the economy, he added.


A spokeswoman for the University of Glamorgan said, “In a time where students are choosing to shun the more traditional science subjects, the BSc science: fiction and culture is successful in engaging students in science.

“The course looks at the role of science in society and the way science is communicated to the public and, as such, many of our graduates go on to become science teachers.

“For other graduates the course is a stepping stone to further scientific postgraduate education as well as successful scientific-based careers.

“Several past graduates from the course have found employment with Nasa.”

A BA in fashion buying for retail at Manchester Metropolitan University seems to me to have as much intrinsic value as a degree in classics. Not everybody can go to Oxford or Cambridge but the fact that those who do not choose more practical degrees does not devalue their achievement. If anything it enhances their employability, whilst giving them the sort of academic discipline available from taking any sort of degree.

If business want the degrees then they should fund them.

The problem is that we have a centralised system of targets and funding. The whole education system is suffering from this.

Personally I welcome whatever degrees the market can sustain, but we need a market in the first place, not a system of state subsidy.

As for your smear on the Tax Payer's Alliance - if they are principled then those Tories you claim would be attracted would not be because they would want subsidy upon their lifestyles.
Tax reduction is a good aim for any liberal. We can surely all agree that the state is doing many things badly and wastefully and is doing things we think it shouldn't be doing (ID Cards, Iraq, much of the justice system is in crisis, payments to fund the CAP, useless quangos galore - all of which could be cut and save money which could be passed to tax payers at all levels - especially the poor)
What utter nonsense. This goes to the heart of what education is for, to equip people with skills for the real world whilst facilitating personal growth. There is no mention of targets in this piece nor is that relevant. Colleges are providing degree subjects that people need in an ever changing world. It is right that the state funds that because the state will benefit from it through increased wealth and taxes.

I am not sure which bit you believe is a smear. Is it that they are Tories or that they like horses and golf?

Tax reduction is not a liberal objective in itself. There is a role for the state in enabling people to fulfil their potential and education and training is part of that. It follows that a liberal objective is to create an enabling state. Tax reduction may be a consequence of that in some years, but not always and not as an aim in itself.

I agree that there are some things that can be reformed to use public money better but your list is very wide-ranging and not very clearly defined. I would not place education of any sort on that list.
Good post - these people are reactionary snobs. They decry the ambitions of ordinary people to go to University, yet don't apply their restrictive standards to their own children.

They want to hark back to the days when the children of the priviledged few dominated Universities and some places were given to the rest of us to maintain a paper-thin veil of meritocracy.

Modern business and the economy needs a diverse range of graduates with skills specially suited to employment - the days of the dominance of 'classic' subjects are long gone.

Glad to see that the hypocrisy of these people has been exposed.
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