Monday, 2 April 2012

Smarting up? Dumbing down!

One of the people whose youth work I manage is 19. She works 18.5 hours a week planning and delivering work at a youth centre I oversee. She also works another 18.5 hours in another of our teams. Even at this age she's very good at her job and will become even better during the long career she hopefully has ahead of her. She’s bright, honest, hard-working, masters a brief easily, is pleasant to colleagues and young people, uses her initiative and already has a good overall grasp of the job.  I've just done her annual appraisal and marked her very highly.

She’s never been to college and admits she wasn’t that good at school. She’s not yet a qualified youth worker. As of 2010 you have needed a degree to become a full-timer, so my employer has put her on the training route at a university in London that offers the course. In fact they've decided to put her through the MA course, which will require her – alongside her 37 hours a week, a few of which we give her off for college – to study for a total of 2½ years, with one day a week attending the course and five – including Saturdays – working for us.
To summarise: that’s the equivalent of doing a BA and then an MA while working a full week, and in less time than it would normally take a full-time student to do the BA. And she is 19.
Today she came to me in a bit of a panic as she has to write an essay on Pierre Bourdieu and social positioning with reference to Traveller camps by this Thursday.
I asked if they had given her any background in post-modern theory. No. Did she know what post-modernism is? No. Had they given any guides to writing essays or studying more widely? No. But she knew how to use the Harvard referencing system. She was honest enough to say, but not in these words, that she knows, let alone understands, fuck all about the lot of it, and is unlikely to do so even when she has completed the essay. She was quite open about it, and that too is to her credit.
I am sad and I am angry; but more angry than sad. Who are we letting down more: her, for putting her through this and – because they will – making sure she passes; ourselves, for being damned fools who collude in our own emasculation; future employers, who will look at paper qualifications and see that all is well when it isn't; taxpayers, who have to pay for this travesty; young people, who have to pay for our folly; or society as a whole, for our setting the bar so low?
No gags today. Sorry.


  1. Dear God. None of this even makes sense . . . .

  2. Hello Spud,
    Remember, the new entrepreneurial universities ushered in by the Browne report depend upon this sort of student recruitment. It doesn’t matter that many students show no aptitude for higher education and the experience will be of little benefit to them. The important thing is that they ‘invest’ in a degree, accruing huge debts and keeping higher education in business. Because that’s what it is: a business. It is the mission of the education industry to make money out of people’s insecurities and fears about their future. It does this through propaganda that links the spurious promise of higher earnings and career advancement with the attainment of dubious educational awards. For instance this from the University of Dunkin Donuts: ‘With our degree in Flat-Pack Furniture Assembly you will gain serious competitive advantage over all the other proles in the job market. Without one you will face social oblivion.’

    All the best,

  3. Thanks Rab. As well as being a business imperative for universities that keeps students in hock, there are also many organisations, like my own, that happily pay public money up front for bogus qualifications in order to justify their existence because they supposedly retain staff of a required standard. These qualifications are of genuine value to the careers of those who receive them, if not to the professions or disciplines for whom they're the supposed gatekeepers. Funders and the people who monitor quality connive in it too. Qualifications are taken without demur to represent knowledge and practical accomplishment. So it's MA level because it's called an MA, and that's enough. Targets and 'outcomes' are likewise set and skewed any which way. So long as the circle's joined, who cares if it's square? And who, within it, will object?

  4. Spud,
    Your observations are, as always, spot on in most respects except the last statement: I'm within the circle and I object.