Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities and Science, proposes that English universities should cut out the long summer vacation and run first degrees over two years rather than three as they do now. No doubt saving his ministry money is not entirely absent from his thinking.
This idea is not untested, as the University of Buckingham, Britain’s oldest private university, has been successfully using this model for more than forty years. One benefit is that Buckingham’s excellent law department is able to admit undergraduates twice a year, in January and July, rather than just in the autumn as in less innovative institutions.
Shorter degrees would provide financial savings both to the students and to the public purse. Of course, universities would have to adjust their business model, as they would not be able to rent out student rooms during the summer. Jo Johnson’s proposals recognise that.
The change would also improve access. Courses would become more attractive to mature students, who find taking three years out of full-time employment a daunting disincentive. (It is not coincidence that Buckingham has always had a relatively high proportion of mature students.)
The social benefits of getting out of the 18-to-23-year-old monoculture of many undergraduate programmes are easy to see too. Similarly, the shorter programmes would probably improve working-class participation.
The sandwich element of courses in engineering, scientific and other vocational courses, which involve a year working in industry, could still happen, although there would presumably be adjustments in the timing.
Shirley-Anne Somerville, Scotland’s Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, really should take a look at this idea too. In Scotland, where many first degrees last four years, moving to year-round teaching would cut these courses to three years with similar benefits as in England.
While Mr Johnson, and hopefully Ms Somerville too, are thinking about shorter degrees, I hope they will take time to consider another improvement to higher education: fewer degrees. While it is easy to see the benefits of a scientific course, engineering, medicine or many vocational subjects, the nation would benefit, and not just financially, from having far fewer humanities students and in the cases of politics, sociology and social work, no students at all.
The arts and humanities faculties in our universities are a breeding ground for cultural Marxism. It should be no surprise that it was the university ‘educated’ who voted against Brexit, whereas those who were experiencing life at the sharp end tended to vote in favour.
Anyone who has ever been involved in a political party with elected parliamentarians will have come across the young staffers with degrees in politics, international relations and similar subjects, starting their ascent of the greasy pole of a politics career. Regardless of the politics of their party, these people are a scourge, because their heads are full of theory rather than life experience. All too many of them become councillors, parliamentarians and then government ministers without ever having their prejudices challenged by the outside world. For particularly depressing examples of this type, just look up some of the Scottish government ministers on Wikipedia.
Would a social work profession that recruited solely mature adults with life experience rather than youngsters with degrees in social work be held in such low regard by the public? No, of course not!
Nor is it a coincidence that many of the great writers had travelled and tried many other endeavours before they achieved literary success. Rudyard Kipling was able to write great poetry and prose about the British Raj because he had moved among the soldiers, the merchants and the native Hindus and Muslims.
Progressives love humanities degrees because it gives them years to indoctrinate impressionable young people without experience of reality challenging the academics’ cultural Marxist dogmas. If Britain is ever to recover, we need to bring an end to this life support system for Marxist evil.