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Mick Temple’s Blog

A DEGREE OF INTELLIGENCE

12-04-2008

Degree Awards

MSC Graduates - UEA

Can you really tell if someone has been university educated or not? And is it worth the effort of getting a degree, especially when you're racking up all that debt? Professor Mick Temple thinks so.

An official report has just delivered the verdict of students on their university experience. Many of them say getting a degree is a waste of time. To be as polite as I possibly can, I think they’re wrong.

Well, to misquote Mandy Rice-Davies, I would say that, wouldn’t I? I’m a university professor whose livelihood depends on attracting students through the portals of my esteemed institution.

But the students surveyed by a government department were unhappy because they felt the degree did not give them the edge in the job market they thought it should. Undeniably, when close to half our young people are going to university, a degree does not have the clout it had in my day (cue nostalgic grumpy old man rant).

I lecture on degree courses in journalism that are highly vocational and most of our students go on to exciting careers in a variety of media jobs. They’ve received practical training for a highly competitive work place – and without it, hardly any of them would be employable in those areas.

However, employability is not the only – and for some, it’s not the main – reason for entering higher education.

Along with their practical training, all our students have to take theoretical courses which develop their analytical skills, and allow them to question (and also defend) their role in the modern globalised media economy.

I can generally tell who has and who has not been to university – it’s nothing to do with basic intelligence or even being able to answer the tough questions on University Challenge. I can’t even answer the questions on Are You Smarter Than A Ten Year Old? Not because I’m stupid – I’m just not being indoctrinated every day because schools need to get good results at Key Stage 2.

Before I offend those of you who did not go to university I am well aware that what I am about to describe is not the sole prerogative of the academy. Some of my best friends are uneducated oiks … Gary Hudson, step forward. And some of our greatest and most original thinkers avoided higher education.

What should distinguish university graduates – ok, not all of them! - is the ability to take on board a number of different perspectives, weigh them up, and importantly, make critical judgements which avoid dogma, cliche and so-called ‘common-sense’.

In short, the ability to think for themselves. That is the most important legacy of any education.

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