Thursday, January 15, 2009

colleges, closures and golf clubs

closures in Cambridge, thanks to Cambridge NewsThe economic downturn is making itself felt in the Draughty Old Fen, with people who have never been unemployed in their lives finding themselves without a job, some of these even looking abroad for jobs. Speaking as somebody who got on his bike and got a job in a different country, I have sympathy for them - but in my case it turned out to be the best move we ever made.

The Cambridge News carried an article today saying that "dozens of shops" in Cambridge are standing empty, at a time when Cambridge University colleges, who own commercial properties in the city, are considering raising rents.

It's a heartrending situation. The more shops go out of business, the more shops will follow them, as shoppers migrate to streets and even towns where there are less voids, especially when nights are dark.

On the other hand, I can see the Uni's need to establish a "fighting fund" in the face of government targets to place 50% of school-leavers in higher education. In order to facilitate this, central government is placing unrelenting pressure on universities to lower their academic standars, so that they are now offering what were lambasted by Labour's own Margaret (now Lady) Hodge as "Mickey Mouse degrees", such as studies in cosmetics or golf course management. Particulary in the ideologues' targets are the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, which are under fire for not forcing students onto dumbed-down courses which they are ill-equipped to finish and, dropping out, end up with their self-confidence around their ankles.

The chocolate fireguard degrees are a part of a plan which will see students in England forced to stay on in school or other education until the age of 18. The government will be able to point to some successes from this, but it occurs to me that these will be people who would have stayed on in education anyway. I suppose, however, that in line with plans for more employees to be given work by the state to ride out the recession, there will be an explosion in posts for truancy officers.

Instead of flooding the fast-food industry with golf graduates, what's wrong with lowering the school leaving age so that, say, a kid who likes golf can try to get a job as a caddy, graduate to the clubhouse, so that by the time his more academically able peers are graduating from college or university, he knows the golf trade like the back of his hand and is ready to start off in junior management, including further education on a sandwich basis?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: if schools were genuinely allowed to prepare pupils for the world of work, either directly or through higher education, universities would not be the only beneficiaries: we'd have shop-assistants who could count, administrators who could write letters, and everybody could come home and enjoy a good book.

None of this helps shopkeepers in Cambridge who find they have to shut up shop forever. But I think pointing to the colleges as the baddies is like blaming pubs for the downturn in their business because they've banned smoking. Let's take the blindfold off before we pin the tail on the donkey.


  1. In my grandmother's time it was, if I'm not mistaken, extremely common to leave school in, say, the 8th grade (i.e., around age 14). It was not considered degrading, merely practical. The school also offered numerous classes on practical things such as agriculture and animal husbandry. I see this as the equivalent of what you're proposing. It seems like a really good idea. Many kids these days see no point in the subjects in which the schools are educating students. If one isn't going to a professional career (and some folks have no desire for a professional career whatever), there really isn't any point in one's learning some of those things.

  2. My Mum left school at 14, too, and when she was there she also learnt practical stuff like sewing, as there were loads of tailors in Glasgow then. She was in the lower academic stream, which she loved - had there been no streaming, it would have broken her heart to be in the underperforming section of the class. At school I learnt how to take down dictation, and in the office where I work now, the younger women there didn't even know what the word meant when I mentioned it to them.

    I'm glad to see sewing and working with textiles is back on the curriculum over here, my daughters love it. But when they were learning cooking, a lot of it was stuff like designing a restaurant - as you say, what's the point of that if you're not going to be a millionaire TV chef? It would be much more useful to teach them how to eat healthily on a subsistence budget.

  3. Oh, how I agree with you! It seems that students are expected to go to college, or not. There is no in between... like learning how to work! Students graduate without being able to count change. They are not able to write a resume. I do like the idea of magnet schools, which at least allow a student to have some focus and study those things that interest him and will encourage him in a direction of actual employment.

  4. "Magnet schools" sound like a good idea. Anything that prepares kids for the real world would be better than what we have in state schools over here right now, which is merely directed towards preparing kids to pass exams, which are set so easy that a perfprmance which would get you a "C" 20 years ago would land you with an "A" right now, and supposedly shows how good the government's education policies are. But this is the reality of living under socialism - God be with you all.

  5. Not just under socialism, but here too. The children learn to test. There are months during the year that the elementary teachers in the public school "teach the test".. the higher the students score on the state tests, the more money the school gets.

  6. Yep, that's more or less the situation here. With politically pointed agendas - I read in the paper today that the subject of geography is in danger of disappearing under topics like global warming and recycling.

  7. Found this in the local paper - Houston Chronicle:

  8. Pam - thanks for the link, but I can't get the article up. Can you give me a few keywords and the date it was published, and I'll try to get it through Google Advanced?


Please feel free to leave a comment - Frugal Dougal.