Surprised so many people liked this article. One other commenter said this is The Daily Mash level of satire and they are correct. It’s tiresome, unfunny, predictable and written precisely to defend the departments and courses that are in need of deep reform. I lectured for 4 years at Russell group university. Each cohort had about 20% of students who simply should not have been there – they arrived clueless and duped by inflated A Level results. Another 30% were capable of getting a 2:2 and maybe a low 2:1, but really for all the debt they would accumulate it was not really worth their time. They should have gone straight into admin jobs from A Level. That leaves 50%. The grading system should have been recalibrated to this section of the cohort. Aside from this, and has been mentioned many times, the departmental staff largely suffer from group think. There were maybe 1 or 2 members of staff in my area who were in some sense conservative. The overwhelming concern of all younger/newer members of staff was gender related even though my subject didn’t historically have this as a major area of concern. Part of our responsibilities was to help on various courses with seminar teaching and the standard was to teach critical approaches to texts/ideas e.g. through a set of feminist, Marxist, racial, deconstructionist lenses etc. But here is the stupefying thing, and something that only became truly apparent to me after I left – no one ever taught the students to be critical of those lenses in and of themselves. They are taken as sacred unquestioned methods which reveal the truth of the text, and the truth was usually how the method shows why the texts are ‘problematic’ by a contemporary left wing view of the world. It became apparent to me that virtually the whole of the Humanities runs as a 1 trick pony. You can test this for yourselves by looking at the adverts for departmental seminars. The approach taken will almost always be this: take a small fact or occurrence from the periphery of the subject in question, then simply point out that said fact/occurrence shows us that the dominant view is not only incomplete, but also oppressive to the periphery. Then re-centre the subject on to said periphery as the new standard, thereby overthrowing the old oppressive order of things. They apply this simple methodology to everything. Whole PhDs are based on this basic approach – you could write your own. As long as you find perceived oppression and use obtuse jargon from the Frankfurt School you will be at your graduation ceremony in no time. A rot has set in many years ago, and the kind of reform needed would be the work of a generation. But even then the crisis is really only a microcosm of the larger crisis in the West. We are at an end and no tinkering will fix it. I don’t think there can be any political solutions to what is happening not least because there is too much inertia in the system. The actions required could not be taken (effectively strip non-Russell group unis of their university status, making them focus solely on vocational course as they used to as polytechnics, reduce the numbers going to the Russell Group to say 10-15% of 18 year olds and somehow work towards re-balancing the mix of staff in terms of political and philosophical view points). Sadly though it’s a process that simply has to play out. As with the general crisis, all you can do is preserve what you can and certainly don’t send your own children to university unless they are heading for a very specific career route where the degree is required. The final elephant in the room is that the university sector is now in effect in hock to China. Remove the Chinese students and money from the universities and the vast majority are instantly bankrupt. This is not an exaggeration.
The best thing about Eagleton’s article is that it provoked this response.
I suppose it would be too much to hope for Mr Eagleton to respond to the comment
Thank you. I usually try not to comment, but I couldn’t let this one go.
I agree 100%
This was my response https://sdp.org.uk/sdptalk/a-localist-model-for-higher-education/
I read your piece. Pretty much exactly my thoughts, maybe I should join the SDP!
They would be delighted to have you. Email William Clouston 🙂
Well said, Pil Grim! There’s an article to be written on the need for university reform, and your comment contains the essence of that article, while Terry Eagleton’s ‘satire’ is, as you say, feeble in the extreme, and fails to make the points that need to be made. Admission standards have dropped, admitting students to university who lack the motivation and ability to profit from the experience, a situation which is propped up by dropping assessment standards and providing extra help to shovel the weaker students through their courses. Rigorous technical and vocational education has been sidelined by the turning of polytechnics into universities, often focusing on courses with little academic merit and less utility. As we are seeing now, the need to sustain the bloated university sector is leading to an unhealthy reliance on international students’ fees to balance the financial books. The failure to ensure that all such students have a level of English and of knowledge and study skills to cope effectively with their courses further degrades the value of those courses and drives standards down further. Eagleton’s weak article seems to be taking aim at conservatives who harrumph at the uselessness of universities in general. He failed to notice the real target.
Yes, thanks you, he has straw-manned the problem in question. No one seriously wants the Universities to be closed down, but they do now need deep and urgent reform of the kind that I think is sadly not going to happen precisely because of the massive challenge it would represent. It’s incredibly frustrating to be able to see what the solution is (for the most part) and yet it is a solution that cannot be delivered.
In the Re-Centering portion, you’re describing the “Transformational” Hermetic Dialectic (Social Alchemy). Its Gramsci’s Long March basically using Nudge Theory via Institutional Capture to slowly and then rapidly reorient Norms.
Take two Binaries- the Dominant Perspective (Normal) and Marginalized Perspective (Abnormal). Deconstruct, IE relentlessly critique the Dominant Perspective until over time the perspectives flip flop; the Abnormal becomes the Normal and nobody knows where they are.
Yes – the method has in effect taken over multiple disciplines, with most practitioners not even knowing that is the case. They just assume that’s what academics are meant to do.
Sounds rather like the triumph of slave morality in On the Genealogy of Morals . . .
Bravo, Pil Grim. Eagleton’s piece here is a painful demonstration of the maxim: Just because you have a keyboard and a free afternoon doesn’t mean you should type.
You’re the one whom Unherd should be paying, not Eagleton.
Ha, thank you
Your response is a better article than what was published. Thank you for taking the time to write it.
Yes, it’s the same in American universities. Marxist-style materialism is passed off as objective thinking. It’s so prevalent that it’s not even seen as a point of view.
Not even the professors themselves understand any alternative that might involve more expansive, provocative questioning related to faith vs. reason, the community vs the individual, the meaning of citizenship, free will vs determinism, the role of science, etc., etc. What students get is formulaic, and they come out dull.
My oldest child is off to university this year and this comment saddens me because it is true. I believe it is a waste of her time and my money. I used to genuinely believe in the value of a university education – but don’t any longer. However the job market remains geared towards degrees – no matter how much weaker the product is now.
In another place I’ve just read of a degreeless adult who after many years of experience is doing the job and training new recruits with degrees that this person might have walked into 30 years before with a degree but they got life experience instead. The only difference is that they earn a slighter lower wage than if they’d had that degree but thats not about merit it’s purely down to the laws and statues of the company. So that does suggest that the main use of getting a degree now is that if you attain a certain career level you’ll get more pay than your equally competent but degree-less colleague.
So your views after 4 years at some point or another in history at an unnamed RG institution is then extended into the whole sector? You wouldn’t get away with that in any PhD I supervised.
Well, a comment isn’t a PhD is it? Although given how short PhD’s are these days perhaps that is the length of work you are now used to marking to make someone a doctor… More seriously: 4 (recent-ish) years of teaching, 6 years of PhD study (PT), plus talking to many other academics from different departments and institutions, does in fact give a pretty good picture. And the indebtedness to China of the RG is absolutely the case. You only need to tally up the numbers. I know of one institution which would be in an immediate 100 million pound + deficit if the Chinese students alone were not there.
Very well said, PG. I suspect we are dealing with a system that cannot be fixed, at least not by operating internally through the rules and structure of the system. Something more akin to a revolution is needed– perhaps separating the hard sciences and engineering into polytechnics that remain pure polytechnics, and abolishing the other departments or letting them shrink into irrelevance. The university culture cannot be changed if the current administrators, woke faculty and political officers remain in position.
I remember the moment all British Polytechnics were elevated into Universities. Wholesale educational inflation, like introducing a PhD in secretarial science. Once in a while critical theory has its moments, such as replacing racial groups by racialized groups, but for the life of me I cannot think of any useful result of Wittgensteinian studies or analytic philosophy, apart from allowing some tweedy types some intellectual wanking. As to Chinese students, a few years ago I met a freshly minted Chinese MBA, product of a former Polytechnic. He literally could not put two coherent English sentences together. At least in the USA there are some studies of the effectiveness of academic specialties. While Eagleton is getting his wish and the Humanities are dying, Business Studies are flourishing. However, most highly paid business analysts are still incapable of picking stock market winners, as the proverbial chimpanzee stock picker will beat them. Fortunately there will soon be an end to all this suffering. No, not the trend for Britain to be ruled by its former colonial subjects, though that is a surprisingly understudied subject, but soon AI will nullify the need for intellectual wankers by producing tsunamis of pseudo-intellectual congees. In the meantime we will be short of bricklayers and electricians.
Wow spot on, especially in not applying criticality to critical theory
This article was a breath of fresh air to me. I graduated from a third rate university in New York, during the latter part of the 60’s. I majored in advertising and marketing and graduated with a BBA degree. I can honestly say, that over the 4 years, there wasn’t one professor who inspired me. Everything I learned, I learned in the real world, after graduation.
Thank you for your comment. This was Gramsci writing in 1915:
“Socialism is precisely the religion that must overwhelm Christianity. … In the new order, Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches and the media by transforming the consciousness of society.”
It has been a long march but they got there. Lord help us.
Great piece of satire for sure. Hate to be Debbie Downer, but there are plenty of uni courses that can be cut – basically anything ending in the word studies. University admissions are much too easy now, negating much of the value of a degree. We need more plumbers and electricians.
I agree with all of that. Stop encouraging people without the aptitude or even the inclination to excel in higher education to go to university anyway. Strengthen vocational training and career preparation for those so inclined or constituted beginning in high school. North American schools needn’t imitate the quite severely stratified systems in Germany or England, but we can stand to take a page or two from their well-studied figurative books.
The problem, as we should well know by now, is that the point of universities these days is indoctrination, not education, where left-leaning faculty and administration can inculcate their anti-western, culturally suicidal doctrines into young people, who will then go out into the world and reliably vote for establishment politicians who talk about diversity, inclusion, trigger words, microaggressions, and all that other nonsense. Sending half or more of high school graduates into vocational training, apprenticeships, or simply directly into the many many clerical and sales related jobs that don’t require much training at all, would be perceived (probably accurately) as handing the future to the unenlightened troglodytes that already populate those professions and flock to populist candidates. Better a compliant mob of overeducated, underemployed drones who will toe the line than a productive and industrious workforce forever beyond the reach of the social programming necessary for the one world globalists to reach their mystical utopia.
There is some truth in what you say, but I find most of it to be wildly overstated. Not every faculty member or student, even in the target disciplines (those most ideologically fraught and corrupted), falls into your basket of woke deplorables, not even close. To believe that there is no support for or openness to high-school age vocational training among academics or those broadly associated with the left is to succumb to a biased or ideologically-penetrated tunnel-vision of your own.
The so-called conservatism that wants to explode every long-established institution from the FBI to the Academy has gotten way out of control.
I admit my hyperbole went a bit over the top. I’ve been complaining about one form or another of educational indoctrination since I was a high school student. My passion for the topic often exceeds my better judgement. I also was wrong to single out the left, who are most guilty of this recently, but certainly not exclusively nor historically. I object more broadly to ALL public education beyond basic reading and mathematics as basically unnecessary and basically a form of government sponsored cultural indoctrination whose goal always was, with few exceptions, to produce compliant obedient citizens rather than independent critical thinkers, whatever ideology the government happened to favor at the time. I view it as an inferior collectivist undertaking that has found support in many disparate political persuasions over time because of its massive convenience and the advantage it offers ruling classes to inculcate their values with the children of the populace. The idea was first pitched to and sold to governments as that and supported by industrialists who wanted a particular set of skills and knowledge in their workers, enough knowledge to be productive workers and save the industrialists the cost of training, but not enough to have them question why they do all the work while somebody else collects the profit. Of course, nobody remembers that. Moreover, objectively speaking, how has eighty or so years of expanded public education improved our society in any meaningful way? The generations who built America into what it is, won two World Wars, and set the boundaries that contained Communism did so without an extensive public education. The most positive social developments of the past half century, such as the civil rights movement, came out of the efforts of the least educated and the most radical. Since then, the American education system has grown corrupt and ineffective at its stated purpose. I viewed it at as a thinly veiled exercise in cultural indoctrination while I was a student in it, and I have seen nothing that justifies changing that viewpoint, and in fact it’s gotten much worse than it was in my time. I suppose I’m one of those out of control conservatives (I consider myself libertarian actually), who would gut most of the federal bureaucracy to a degree far greater than even most staunch Trumpists. My problem with Trump isn’t that he goes to far, but that he doesn’t go nearly far enough, and that he’s a horrible man, a womanizing lech, a corrupt opportunist whose only real political interest is his own advancement and glorification, and an incompetent buffoon besides. I realize that my belief is quite radical and not shared by most fellow citizens, and being a believer in the democratic process even when I don’t agree with the results, I accept the reality that marginal improvement of a bad system is probably the best I can realistically hope for, and the article you mention points out the way I think public education should be going, if the idea of doing away with it entirely is too radical.
A fair follow-up and thanks for the clarifications. I share a portion of your viewpoint. I think basic civic awareness and “three Rs plus” public education needs to happen even if its shallow, shabby, and conformist in nature. Incremental improvements are better than nothing, and as you say perhaps all we can hope for under the all the current circumstances.
I think the average American citizen is a bit undereducated–including many with doctorates in some genre of Grievance Studies–often with an characteristically American combination of maverick attitude and actual conformity.
I respect your genuine independence of mind and willingness to admit mitigating and balancing factors, even when they are just part of an overall mess. And at least you haven’t blinded yourself to Trump’s low character in the way that most Evangelicals have: as long as he gives them (3!) anti-abortion judges and holds the Bible on TV, upside down or not, their objections melt away.
I have some libertarian leanings but I’m more of a classical liberal, who believes in a non-flimsy “safety net” and opposes the full for-profit privatization of, for example, prisons and hospitals.
Try not to get too exasperated with the state of the nation and world (that’s a self-reminder too) because intelligent, fair-minded non-joiners like yourself are not superabundant these days, to put it mildly.
Now I have to let my subscription lapse for a good while; my attention has become too divided, my mood too influenced by the ups and downs and back and forth bellowings of the (un)herd, a noise I’ve contributed to many times.
Drive as many of these well-meaning flocked-together humans toward fresh water as you can, Steve. A bit of a rude metaphor, but that’s my parting shot.
“intelligent, fair-minded non-joiners like yourself are not superabundant these days, to put it mildly.”
I have noticed. A wise man tempers expectations with a heavy dose of reality.
I share your view of Trump. As far as I can see, the main difference between him and Boris Johnson is that the latter has lost his comb and can’t be bothered to replace it.
He knighted his barber…
Hmm, I found it unbearably smug and self-satisfied.
Maybe I’m just in a bad mood today.
Arguably you could split tertiary education up again into Universities, Technical Colleges and Art Colleges. The academic stuff (mostly hard sciences) would remain with the Universities and all the “* studies” could be parcelled out into the colleges.
This might also reduce the number of PhDs which might be no bad thing.
It’s surely a mere coincidence that in the course of his satirical romp, Prof. Eagleton “neglects” to mention gender “studies” as the most obviously superfluous field of “study” and – in the minds of many – the clearest candidate for cancellation. Here in Germany, there are – according to the most recent count – no fewer than 173 (!) professorships in gender studies. Of course, this figure doesn’t encompass the countless hangers-on: the multitudes of “wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter*innen”, post-doctoral and doctoral students. The already heavily beleaguered German taxpayers could be relieved of a heavy financial burden.
Well done, Professor Eagleton. Many a true word is said in jest.
Hmmm. Written by a man who has spent his whole life in academia la la land…
Yes, excellent. And I think I can identify the Oxford College! Reminds me of my time at my first university job when I joined a Geography Department before I had finished my PhD. I was studying glaciers in Iceland and another young lecturer moved into the next office. Being polite I knocked on his door and said “hello, I’m Stephan and I study glaciers”. He replied “hello I’m Steve and I study vampires and ghosts”. I was taken aback….how could any university department include both a cultural theorist like him and a physical scientist like me? I’m still not sure whether this represent the strength of Geography or its weakness!
I was at Oxford when Eagleton turned up. Colleague was an early student. Eagleton taught them IRA songs.
And we fund him and his life of indolence
Was he announcing the birth of post – colonial studies? Even now he can’t bring himself to satirise or speak negatively of this body of knowledge .
I recall my geography teacher when I was thirteen years old. He explained that “Geography” could include almost anything – geology, economics, history, sociology (pattern of human settlements), etc. Why did these activities not take place under the proper departments? I guess that geography provided a different unifying perspective, if you could justify it at all.
At least one British university discourages academics from keeping books in their offices, given that paper in an electronic age is ridiculously passé.
A few years ago I attended a meeting at the Business College I taught at where an administrator requested that we stopped giving reading assignments because students don’t read books any more. I don’t know. Maybe universities have had their time.
I do think bright and determined autodidacts will continue to have an increasing presence and cultural influence. For individual self-starters, this may or may not involve the use of many physical books, and I think the tactile engagement with the codex that many have argued as indispensable to true learning may not be as critical as they’ve claimed–at least for those that are younger that both of us.
But I think there’s a certain scale and kind of research–some of it good–for which the university will remain necessary, well into the near future at least.
Good! Terry Eagleton should be discouraged from reading.
I love the justification for abandoning reading assignments. Another justification would be that requiring students to read is cruel discrimination against the illiterate or the large number with English as a second language. It is difficult to tell what is “real life” or a merciless piss-take any more.
I do have to confess: when I first started reading this article my hackles rose. “What the @&$% is this?” Then, I realized it was satire. That may make me an idiot, but I was laughing by the end. Well done, Eagleton.
Although if it turns out I was wrong, I’ll wipe the egg off my face, make a ham omelet with it, and go back to my garden, hoping the salt content of my tears doesn’t kill my lettuce seedlings.
Good piece (speaking as an ex-academic).
However, AI is going to finish off the university; in a couple of years’ time, serious job losses are going to start. Why go to university and acquire vast debt when there will be no jobs at the end of it?
Perhaps the fees will be dropped, though, and the universities retained, for mandatory indoctrination purposes, and as ‘re-education’ camps.
Since Pluckrose and Lindsay’s ‘Cynical Theories’, we jest about getting rid of anything with ‘studies’ in its name, but my fear is that these may be the only courses that are retained.
In May UnHerd screened The Reformers – a documentary showing Boghossian, Pluckrose and Lindsay pranking the universities with phoney studies papers consisting of pseudo-profound gobbledegook. All very satirical and amusing. A Q&A session followed the screening and a rather complacent audience seemed convinced that this type of ridicule would do serious damage to the purveyors of Woke now dominating our glorious institutions of higher learning. Legions of Woke professors would be shaken out of their foolishness. Students would be offered education rather than indoctrination and the return to sanity would begin.
I’d be willing to bet they will not be “finished off” in 75 years time (except in the oversold sense that they are already “doomed” and “finished”) unless other major institutions, like hospitals and prisons, have also fallen away.
Grievance studies will decline in prominence, not continue to rise. That’s my anti-doom prediction for today.
I really enjoyed this version of Eagleton, in his unstintingly satirical mode. Almost Swiftian at times, though far more good-humored and less misanthropic (so not terribly Swift-like I guess).
Though I can sometimes be quite gullible, this passage quite early on laid the project bare:
To set our students loose on this chronicle of hacking and gouging is rash in the extreme. Many of them are pretty fragile already, and opening a history book can only deepen their anxiety. We need bright-eyed, forward-looking citizens, not depressive types overwhelmed by the nightmare of history.
And the entire paragraph that contains this sentence: “A little more pride in ourselves, a mite less grousing and negativity, and watch those tumours disappear”. Certainly persistent thoughts and attitudes can affect wellness or the lack thereof, but this snap-of-the-fingers magical thinking parading as pragmatic common sense is just hilarious.
Well done, Mr. Eagleton, you stubborn old lefty! A robust sense of humour doesn’t make the case for one’s worldview, but with me it goes a long way toward making me like the author, and rollicking good laughs are in somewhat short supply these days.
“the An Shun civil war of 8th-century China, which resulted in some 429 million deaths”
Nonsense. Wikipedia has collated estimates from various sources of the world’s population in the 8th century, ranging from 200-260m. Estimates for casualties of the An Shun revolt range from 13-53m.
When did An Lushan become An Shun?
You’re right about the numbers though.
Good catch. I wonder if there are any other inaccuracies in the text.
Possible slander of Nero?
Got a laugh out of me there. I suppose it was quite harsh to call him “highly unpleasant”.
You left out the key stakeholders, who expect that upon satisfactory completion of their compliance documents they will be allocated an optimal educational outcome.
Personally speaking, I like my satire a tad less heavy-handed and stale. But, I’m sure this stuff will find an audience. Nish Kumar is no doubt penning a glowing review even as we speak, and we can expect the ‘gags’ (may I call them ‘gags’ Terry? I mean they did make me retch a little) to make an appearance in the next iteration of The Mash Report.
I’m with you. I enjoyed the read but satirising those starting to realise much modern ‘education’ is either ideological indoctrination at one end, or a frivolous waste of time at the other, doesn’t lessen the validity of their argument.
Because it’s clever and witty it will be much used by those protecting their fiefdoms.
You didn’t mention my personal favourite academic bugbear: the PhD in “Creative Writing”, offered by my local university. In that PhD programme, you do some creative writing, then you write a “critical-reflexive essay, in which you situate your creative project in a critical context”. Then they award you a PhD and you get to be called “doctor”.
Abolishing universities is fine, but consider what was in place before universities came into being. We had wandering scholars visiting catherdral schools (is it really any better to have Justin Welby imparting his wisdom?) and monasteries, of which there are but few these days. So the only institutions capable of taking up the slack are the UK’s 2,000 madrassas.
Witty article. But I’m afraid the game really is up. People have begun to realise that a degree from anywhere other than a Russell Group university is a waste of time and money. The mass of young people need skills that can’t be duplicated by computers.
In the not-too-distant future there will be no skills that cannot be duplicated by computers and their increasingly sophisticated android representatives in the domain of physical action.
In fact, I’m wondering if this rather clumsy (and uncharacteristic) attempt at humour might be the result of Eagleton dabbling wth ChatGPT. You never know.
Well, generally accept what you say, but I think it will be a very long time before robots are able to match the caring skills or live performing arts. Even when they do there will be a premium on human expression.
We need to re-gear education to promote well-being – through manual creativity and sport, for instance.
I had my plumber round today to sort out various things with the pipes and boiler. Had a quick chat with him and he didn’t seem too disheartened about the future. Told me he had started to train up to fit heat pumps until he discovered how useless they are in Scotland. Apparently the UK is also very short of registered gas fitters. He has plenty of work on his books. Don’t think AI will be fitting many central heating systems or bathrooms any time soon.
Could Unherd simply be trying out its ChatGPT, inputting “Eagleton” as a parameter? How could we tell the difference?
Arise, Sir Terence Eagleton, Emeritus Professor of Satirical Studies at Looncaster University.
Your prospective students, sweating over their A-level results (due out tomorrow) can henceforth look forward to real trigger warnings as you fire live rounds at them for daring to turn up for your lectures.
Outside of STEM and medical subjects, University is 3 years wasted in this day and age when they could be learning on the job. History is being manipulated by the left and colleges are indoctrination camps. Look at Engels patronising Marx.
Medicine started life as an apprenticeship scheme and was hijacked by the universities a century and a half ago. A new apprenticeship scheme is now starting. In any case, virtually all higher medical training is undertaken whilst working in training jobs and examined outside the University system. Higher medical degrees are just staging posts and nice decorations to have as adornments in the progress towards College or Faculty Memberships and consultant status. Despite the inevitable wailing and gnashing of teeth, Medicine could survive without Universities, Whether clinical research would is another matter entirely. Registered Nursing would benefit positively if it reverted back, away from requiring a degree.
Totally agree with reverting to the SEN/SRN model for nursing qualification. Though I am very biased. Both my late mother and my late aunt earned their SENs at a London hospital between dodging visits from the Luftwaffe.
TE is clever alright. But he was always part of the problem. The massive over expansion of HE, has meant that disciplines like sociology have become both over specialized and dumbed down – at the same time, not least because so many non-academic and disinterested kids are studying them. Factor in the ideological project of the left (in which TE has been a major protagonist) and the strategy of monopoly and cancellation that has dominated the public sphere for the last 15 years – and the result is both predictable and catastrophic. So Terry: not all universities should be closed down, but probably half of them. Not all disciplines should be defunded, but at least half of them – and more importantly, in the social sciences, all the specious sub-disciplines (gender studies etc), should be folded back into the general subject areas such as sociology or politics. The social sciences have not reached the kind of specificity with the necessary detached models and internal testing procedures and consistent scrutiny….that makes such sub-disciplines coherent and viable. What has happened is the creation of small ideological echo-chambers, immune to external critique and scrutiny, never engaging with other disciplinary perspectives…..soaking up vast streams of public money and delivering nothing in terms of societal well-being.
So localize, re-embed in communities, re-expand technical education, remove incentives that promote individual spatial mobility, incentivize inter-generational family solidarity and co-living, incentivize place-bound community attachments…
Re-create properly elite universities for the small number of people with properly academic sensibilities….most of these should also be place-bound/attached
Make sure that these institutions are highly meritocratic and open
And yes – national service would be an excellent idea
Speaking of dumbed down, it’s “uninterested” for God’s sake.
Time for a return to Porterhouse. “Dives in
“Bene edamus! Bene bibamus!
Epula semper concelebramus
Quod imperat Regina
Ne faveat Doctrina
Se choro sonoro
Dives in omnia
Sed choro sonoro
Collegium, Collegium acclamus
To live and die in Porterhouse!
Dives in omnia!”
I’m going to have to re-watch it now …
I run an Aerospace Engineering company. Engineering competence is crucial. I can tell within a month whether we’ve hired a real engineer or a student who simply passed the requirements. We develop the real ones and say sayonara to the pretenders.
Excellent, then “tomorrow belongs to you” as they say Sir!
We should certainly abolish any university that employs you.
As a “guest lecturer” on content grounda I can’t disagree with this article. Far too much knowledge (now the premise of Chat GPT4) and far too few skills. But I have observed other somewhat useful functions – socialising young people (particularly key post Covid as they came out blinking from their bedrooms), cultural exposure (particularly international; class still a real divide in terms of numbers), meeting life partners (a surprisingly high objective for women according to the figures), and navigating the practicalities (rent, food, budgeting, internships). But the current model is profit led, focusing on £36k overseas students, not outcome led.
I believe the market will start sorting out the wheat from the chaff exponentially this decade. Meanwhile my employed colleagues are remarkably sanguine and the provost continues to build state of the art campuses. Has a fin de siecle feel to it, particularly with lecture attendance now being 40% (60% pre Covid).
We need to go back to technical colleges and day release and sandwich courses in Colleges of Advanced Technology all supported by businesses to meet their needs. Any other courses should be paid for but not with loans that do not have to be repaid.
Let’s stop pretending Terry Eagleton has anything to say.
I love this, as well as hate how much it sounds like actual arguments people make to convince others, and particularly younger people, to accept less and less for themselves.
I don’t understand what the article is satirising. The government is going after some dodgy fringe qualifications. But who is saying tertiary study is worthless?
Less university and more trade and vocational training.
Where we have universities, yes, we need to cull out the BS studies, reduce administration and reduce a 4 yr effort to two or three.
Why is this necessary?
Because universities transformed themselves from places of exploration and learning into white collar trade schools. They set themselves up as the arbitors and judges or who is fit to enter the elite and well healed. They made themselves the gate keepers so they could drive up demand for their services and charge more for it to the benefit, not of the students, not of society, but of the administrators and bureaucrats.
Universities are BIG BUSINESS for those wishing to engage in mental masturbation.
Three years ago I found Unherd to be a real antidote to what I was seeing elsewhere. I welcome different perspectives and absolutely don’t want an echo chamber. However this article is evidence of the decline in quality I have noticed for some time now. A nonsense piece, simply designed to get a reaction.
It was meant to be humorous, while making some good points.
Why was this article written?
You did pay him didn’t you; I would hate to think he went to all that trouble and sunk so low for any other reason.
Education in the US, and apparently England, is not the same experience as it was even 20 years ago. They have sold their souls and integrity for Money and Status, which is only present on campus. The Administrators and Professors have become caricatures of the worst possible human beings who you would want to instruct your children and you.
Pathetic, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully.
How else is a late teen going to fund it’s departure from home?
I’m afraid this fails as satire in an age when a degree course in being an “influencer” might be the most financially remunerative degree you could take.
There’s a global shortage of engineers, and a shortage of intelligent students willing to study STEM subjects. We need to turn the dial on higher education so we can be more productive and see the country into the future.
I appreciate this is intended as satire but I have an uneasy feeling it may unintentionally also be a forecast of, at a minimum, the direction of travel. Swift’s “modest proposal” was never likely to be adopted but this line of thinking … ?
Fair play to Terry Eagleton, imagine getting paid for this level of drivel.
Maybe that’s the real satire on academia.
Very true – certainly as regards most universities. Both my children went to third rate ones (one was Newcastle). What a waste of time and money.
Unfortunately, as satire the article is not sufficiently over-the-top as to not sound like the seriously held sentiments of many who, seeing the wreck modern universities have become under the influence of the Frankfurt School, Foucault, Derrida, and various and sundry anti- and post-colonialist thinkers of whom the “woke” are the idiot offspring, fancy that the University, as an institution of Western Civilization can be jettisoned.
What would replace it as a support for basic science or how people could actually be educated, not merely trained for careers, without it, never gets a good answer. We might well remember the quote from John Alexander Smith, Waynflete Prof. of Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy, Univ. of Oxford that Prime Minister Macmillan liked to recall:
Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life – save only this – if you work hard and diligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole, purpose of education.
Restoring universities to a state where they perform that function, rather than teaching men and women to speak rot, whether the rot is business jargon or any of the various species of “theory” derived from the baleful influences I listed in the first paragraph, is the proper course of reform, not judging the usefulness of this or that course of study as career training.
Maybe it’s only the Postmodern/”Theory” modules (and the associated rubbish) in Philosophy that need to go. Think of PPEs, they’ve been useless for decades.
What a brilliant essay! I loved it.
I read this article without noticing who the author was.I thought it was serious, and I agreed with all of it.The only need for university today is for young people to escape their parents, get drunk and have sex,everything else can be learned online if they have enough determination, if they don’t have enough determination,then they are second rate, and a Mickey Mouse degree won’t change that.I am not a fan of Bill Gates but he quit the best school in the US in order to succeed.I am not against young people getting drunk and having sex,they just need to meet up somewhere else.
Mick Jagger quit the London School of Economics (my post-graduate school) after a year to become a billionaire too. Higher learning doesn’t necessarily equate to higher earning.
I’ll leave it to you the reader to judge their relative merits.
Some vague accuracy to start with, though I think his satire cut to close to the truth for his comfort and he had to run back to his dislikes ,US citizens and such to make sure his target audience didn’t fall off.
In my view, if he wants to pay for basket weaving studies, then by all means, he should. It just shouldn’t be kept alive with government money.
I couldn’t tell whether this was a serious argument for university reform and channeling more resources and students into practical subjects, you know, so they can learn the skills to do the jobs that actually exist or whether it was a satire meant to lampoon the same notion and thus argue the opposite. I concluded near the end that it was, in fact, an attempt at satire, just not a very good one. The best satire exposes flawed logic by humorously showing how said logic can be used to underpin an absurd, horrifying, or both conclusion, arguing the case for whatever ridiculous scenario as sincerely as possible using as much of the language and reasoning of the object of satire as possible. The most famous example, A Modest Proposal, uses the language and logic of Malthusianism to make a well reasoned and sober argument that the consumption of Irish children in the wake of the potato famine would be sound public policy. Satire need not use extreme language or hyperbole and the best satires do not, but rather use plain language to argue for something that is ridiculous on its face. The simple fact of the matter is that the premise, largely eliminating traditional universities, is not ridiculous enough to generate a good satire, and in fact the article makes a pretty good case for universities being anachronistic institutions filled with intellectual rubbish that doesn’t really help either the graduates or society in any meaningful way.
Heh – that’ll keep them guessing.
Withering Heights does not end on a sad note. It is a very sad book, and remains the most incredibly intense exposition of passion ever written, despite not having a single “love scene”. It ends with Cathy jr. helping her cousin Earnshaw jr to learn to read and hints at a budding romance between them.
Double and triple cousin marriages and never getting out of the house tend to be bad for the gene pool but it is a sweet ending. It really would’ve better if some of Heathcliff’s “tainted” Gypsy blood were to have enlivened the Linton-Earnshaw family.
That sounds a bit eugenic. I daresay Adolph & Co would have approved.
Bravo- I agree. What universities have done is institutionalise the attendees. We barely use our innate intuition and awareness. Just facts facts facts and economy is mostly based on useless products ( tat). I look around and see that 80% of the stuff I have around me , I could do without. The graduates can barely get jobs after attending top university and getting top grades. It’s mad. Tech improves one aspect of life only to worsen another for which we need new tech.
It’s a bit of a rant but it’s maddening too.
Wot about studying English? Eh, Mr Professor Eagleton, “Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University” (from Wikipedia) and previously Professor of English and/or cultural theory (whatever that is) at some of our top universities. Didn’t mention that, did you?
As for Ph.D’s in astrology, I had no idea that one could do a Ph.D. in astrology in the UK. Where do I apply?
I believe that will depend on your birth sign.
I sympathise, I really do – but no, this is throwing the baby out with the bath water.
The problem isn’t university, nor is it young people choosing degrees you don’t like.
The problem is funding it at the expense of the taxpayer.
Privatise the student loans company, subject it to the market and consequently Mickey Mouse degrees will wither up, to the extent they serve no productive purpose.
A very modest proposal.
Many a true word…
Sorry, I see someone’s already said this. Can we have a ‘delete’ button please Unherd?
Fools, frauds and firebrands and er, Eagleton? I am not a massive fan of Scruton as his passion for fox hunting, classical music and other toxic hobbies undermined his otherwise sensible take on the “universities” of the present age and the lefty kiddults that make up 75% of their workforce. Its realy just a matter of shutting down all non STEM courses for a couple of generations and the problem will solve itself.
“just a matter of shutting down all non STEM courses for a couple of generations and the problem will solve itself.”
Spot on Sir! But why the gripe about classical music, besides the obvious that it is mostly German?
The university system should be scaled back massively because it’s a net negative to society in general and to the majority of students.
‘Unresolved’, not ‘irresolute’.
The most superfluous and inane anti-intellectual college degrees are in business or even worse, busines administration. You can learn all you need to know about entrepreneursip (aka con men, bosses and shysters) from a 12 year old running a lemonade stand.
This is such a funny article. Deeply ironic and satiric but so cleverly disguised that I’m guessing a lot of people, especially ones I know,would take it seriously and thoroughly agree and actually…..well many a true word said in jest.
How many half-right statements can one make while being 100% wrong in the end? What a fascinating insight into one’s psychology and fundamental assumptions. My sympathy.
Bad for morale? Stay at home? Theology as ufology says it all: unserious and untethered from a robust life that accepts risk and pain, or a life that seeks something transcendent. Are you the only thing right with the world?
…. Wait, was this satire?
Eagleton’s article is silly, but at least it carries his byline. Too many of the replies are sensible but pseudonymous.
How true. I have long thought such things. Not so sure about medicine, though. Was the author having a bit of a laugh on this one?
Yes, there are certainly issues in the university sector. However, calling upon a retreat to total philistinism is jaded and cynical in the extreme. Indeed, celebrating the know-nothingness of American culture is how a know-nothing narcissist and grifter ended up in the White House and is the leading GOP candidate for 2024.
It’s meant in satirical jest. Also, look for his underlying, modified-Marxism-I do wonder how committed he remains– by reversing some of his more ludicrous claims (e.g.: history is too triggering for anxious youth; only business schools are needed).
What’s a woman David? Trump could answer that. Harris/Biden cannot. Starmer can’t either. Sturgeon. The no-nothing narcissist seems to have the edge on 99% of social science and humanities professors
Yes, the underlying snobbery of our mediocre ‘intellectual elite’ is its defining characteristic. We need more tradesmen (rather than ‘business’) and far fewer humanities graduates. Eagleton’s satire is closer to the truth than he realises.
What a woefully pathetic bunch of bar room bores droning on about universities, academic standards and left-wing indoctrination. It’s not that ID politics and related moralisms are an insignificant presence in universities here and elsewhere. But this phenomenon is inconveniently far more entangled with the marketisation of HE and the weakness of the political left than anyone here appears to even remotely grasp. Universities are customer orientated and many of their customers are uncertain and ambivalent at best about academic study and intellectual engagement. Individual academics have to teach students in a furiously anti-intellectual climate constrained by a combination of therapeutic and commercially transactional imperatives. It is true that some of these academics propagate relativist, pseudo insurgent nonsense. But many do not. There are actually a great number of British academics from all disciplines who count themselves as politically left wing and are exasperated with their institutions for being lukewarm about academic freedom and intellectual rigour. Maybe a little less pearl clutching and stereotyping and you might be capable of making the kinds of distinctions that are supposedly the hallmark of those who do not follow the herd. Or maybe branding us all cultural Marxists (ooh how could you be so beastly..) just feels better. Certainly easier than actually reading Marx and his epigones.
My post demonstrated the intellectual snobbery you sweepingly attribute to British academics and by extension a contempt for tradesman? Hilarious. The disdain that I and my ilk harbour for chimney sweeps and dental assistants has been embarrassingly exposed. QED.
Indeed it has, and by your own hand. A most satisfactory outcome.
Oh the Wildean darts! Do remember to remove your bicycle clips and please straighten the antimacassar when you rise triumphant from your next laser guided missive.
Most gracious of one so high to dally with one so low.
Oh, Stephen: not the largely manufactured trans “issue” – again! We’ve got a planet in peril and people pissing into bottles at Amazon warehouses. And all you can concern yourself with is a few chicks-with-dicks….
Largely manufactured? Tell that to my friend whose 15 year old son has been taking blockers for 6 months prescribed by a Californian clinic through Mexico and given through a UK chemist on her credit card – all done without her knowledge.
Trump: “A creature divided into three categories: those you marry, those you grab by the crotch, and those that are dogs”.
Diogenes of Sinope would have your ‘balls’ for that calumny, and rightfully so.
Your antiquarian poses are sometimes amusing and sometimes quite tedious. I stand behind my semi-sincere assessment of Trump’s view of women.
It’s your view of dogs NOT Trump that I take issue with.