“Don't bother getting a good degree: Now PC brigade says bosses shouldn't just hire best students as it discriminates against average graduates” screams the headline above Emma Reynolds' article in the Daily Mail. She is referring to the government-funded review by Professor Tim Wilson and the report he has delivered to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The Torygraph put it a little more calmly - “Recruitment programmes that filter out candidates who fail gain at least 2:1 degrees run counter to many employers’ duties to hire a “diverse” workforce, it is claimed. It is believed as many as three-quarters of top employers currently require good grades as a minimum threshold for an interview”.
Well, that's great. We totally agree. If it's illegal to discriminate against people on grounds of race (unless they're English), or religion (unless they're Christians), or sexual orientation (unless they're straight Anglo-Saxon males), or gender (unless they're men), then why should employers be allowed to discriminate on grounds of ability? We look forward to the day when football clubs no longer pick players who can actually play football, and when the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is forced to accept a proportion of applicants who can't actually play the violin.
In fact, why not follow this thought to its logical conclusion and abandon all forms of selection? Drop exams in school, forbid schools to stream their pupils, close all special schools for those who are ... shall we say, “less able”, open the universities to everyone regardless of how thick they are (oh, sorry, that's already happened)?
And as for the jobs market, how much simpler it would be if employers simply chose people by lot? The adverts could be admirably concise: “Required, CEO for major multinational financial institution, no experience necessary, candidates must be able to accept a six-figure salary and annual bonus of £1m plus”. And think how easy the interviews would be: “Now, Wayne, thank you for applying for the post of General Manager here at Network Rail. Can you tell us a little about your previous experience? You've spent three years flipping burgers and before that you were unemployed for fifteen years? And where did you flip your burgers – was it somewhere in the rail industry? No? I'm sure a kiosk on Southend Pier was just as fulfilling. And were you any good at it? Not really? That's wonderful. Yes, those kiosks can be terribly inflammable. When can you start?”
Just think, The GOS could at last fulfil his long-held ambition to play cricket for England. After all, it's his country and he knows which way up to hold the racket, so he's as much right as anyone else. And almost anyone could apply to be Professor Tim Wilson.
But to be fair – which is something we always endeavour to be, and which the Daily Mail doesn't understand – when you read some of the Prof's other recommendations, he makes a lot of sense. The Torygraph again ...
”... Prof.Sir Tim Wilson ... said that focusing on students from a small number of universities – often leading research institutions – was “too narrow”. He called on graduate employers to carry out a systematic review of screening policies amid fears companies could be missing out on talented candidates from non-traditional backgrounds.
Sir Tim, former vice-chancellor of Hertfordshire University, also suggested that companies should make greater use of new-style graduate report cards that mark out students’ achievements in a range of areas including extra-curricular activities in addition to raw degree grades.
The conclusions are among a total of 54 recommendations made as part of a wide-ranging analysis of the relationship between universities and the world of business. His report – delivered to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – admitted that many businesses had concerns with graduate skill levels, particularly poor “commercial awareness”.
The review recommended:
Allowing every full-time undergraduate to have the chance of an internship during their degree course, with universities using cash from the Office for Fair Access to fund students through unpaid placements;
Lifting strict controls on student places to expand the number of four-year “sandwich courses” – in which undergraduates spend up to 12 months in industry – to boost graduates’ employment prospects;
Introducing modules on “employability skills” as part of standard degree courses to ensure students can apply their knowledge in the world of work;
Allowing consortiums of further education colleges to award their own two-year foundation degrees in response to the employment needs of local communities.
Figures published last week by the Office for National Statistics showed that almost a quarter of university leavers were unemployed last year. The race for jobs at Britain’s biggest employers is already hugely competitive, with data released last year showing that 83 graduates were vying for every position.
Sir Tim’s report said: “A filter that limits recruitment to a particular set of universities, a 2:1 standard and defined UCAS entry threshold to the corporate sector are not uncommon requirements, but it has flaws”.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said the world's best universities were building deeper links with business, adding that the Government would now "carefully consider" the report's recommendations.”
What neither Vince Cable nor Professor Wilson have said is that the mess they're trying to tackle is down to the last Labour government. To put it in a nutshell, far too many young people are going to university. Many of them aren't suited to it and would be better off with apprenticeships, most university degree courses aren't at all useful, standards have had to be reduced with the introduction of ridiculous degree courses like “Surf Science and Technology”, “Stand-up comedy”, “International Football Management” and “Stained Glass Window Studies”, and far too many of them are leaving university for a life of shelf-stacking and a mountain of debt.
As we've said before, Labour really believed that because most successful people from posh families go to university, all they had to do was send everyone to university and they'd automatically become successful and posh.
How odd, then, that they didn't apply the same thinking to schools. You'd have thought that if successful people from posh families go to public schools, the obvious move would be to make state schools as much like public schools as possible. Instead, they did the opposite – attacked grammar schools and did their damnedest to squash everyone into the same lowest-denominator, comprehensive mould.
The GOS says: Not that there's anything wrong with comprehensive schools per se. I taught in several, and they're perfectly OK so long as those running them recognise what all sensible people and very few Labour politicians do – children and young people are not all the same, and don't all need the same things.
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