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Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Uses of University

The principal social purpose of universities today is to keep around 44% of the age group 18-22 out of the jobs market and [in the main] in a life of sufficient social indulgence to keep them from radicalisation in support of any real or imagined cause. In England [which forms the bulk of the population] the cost of achieving this objective has been shunted from the state budget into a La-la-Land where it appears as a debt owed by the graduate community; which no one believes will be repaid in full, or even in half. The fact that the interest that is added to the accumulated debt has now increased to more than 6% - compound - makes the dream of repayment even more laughable.

It is still argued in some quarters that the universities have an economic purpose, to train the inventors of the future and to nurture some of the best researchers as teachers in the universities who combine their pedagogic work with the selection of the best students to join their research teams who will thus extend and perpetuate their work. This happens, on a depressingly small scale in comparison to the massive size of the university sector overall. Some buildings that were provided by the state in the nineteen sixties and seventies for university schools of science - especially of applied science and engineering - have been 're-purposed' to take some of the expansion in social studies: especially business and media. Where applied science capacity has been maintained, since the mid-seventies it has been occupied by an increasing proportion of overseas students [at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels] who mostly take their skills to competitor countries after graduating. Around the best scientific, medical and engineering departments have been gathered spin-off companies, which have developed innovations formed in the academic context into potentially successful businesses. Where these grow into conspicuous successes, the probability of them being taken over and developed by aliens, rather than by British capitalists, is overwhelming.

It is also worth noting that much of the best spun-off development has been in business parks funded by richly-endowed colleges, especially in Cambridge; which have been better resourced that spin-offs from Manchester or Sheffield Universities. Bullshit about the Northern Powerhouse has drawn heavily on the resources of the universities in the region for its rhetoric: but the Oxbridge endowments have not been matched by state funding for spin-offs from the multiple universities in Leeds or Birmingham.

The chief function of the universities is indeed to maintain intelligent young people in suspense over a period of years in which they have a good chance of being softened by drink, drugs, sex and idleness, or of being diverted into sports and hobbies that absorb their attention in ways that are not economically or politically disruptive. The school results that determine which university and course [if any] pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will take up are being announced today, and the universities are competing vigorously to attract the best talent [insofar as it is revealed by A-level results]. The short-term motives for this are to be able to claim a 'high quality' of intake to keep a flow of good applicants coming to the university, and to get their fees through the university's books. The longer-term objective is to be a survivor when the inevitable cull of the over-bloated higher education system is begun. Economic and social usefulness will then be asserted as the criteria for selection as to which institutions should be culled and which retained: but the objectivity and validity of those criteria will be subject to challenge. The outcome, as to the size, shape and orientation of the higher education system cannot now be predicted.

There still are great scholars and sensible researchers in the British higher educational system. One such has just challenged the increasing optimism of government and the media about the extent of the oil and gas supplies that can be gained by fracking shale. He has gently suggested that the shales that are to be found in the UK are mostly too new [in Geological terms] to yield much that is economically useful. So another bubble may be about to burst: which shows how important it is - and always has been - to develop and retain the applied sciences: they can provide counterbalance to the fantasies that emerge from the Econocracy, which currently corrupt far too great a proportion of the university population.

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