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Coffee House

Should you take a degree to earn money – or to learn how to live?

5 March 2014

3:28 PM

5 March 2014

3:28 PM

The motion ‘An Arts Degree is a Waste of Time and Money’ was roundly defeated at last night’s Spectator debate, after a lively debate in which Will Self took on Katie Hopkins.

Self, opposing the motion, was supported by Wellington College headmaster Anthony Seldon and Doug Richard, entrepreneur and former Dragon from BBC’s Dragon’s Den. Katie Hopkins, supporting the motion, was backed by The Spectator’s contributing editor Harry Cole and by Julia Hobsbawm, founder of Editorial Intelligence.

Hopkins kicked off asserting that the type of degree studied is linked to the name of the student. After losing herself somewhat in this opening flourish, she then returned to the argument about the value of the arts. Her key points were financial, (‘in 30 years’ time we will pay for the privilege of Chantelle and her 2:2 in Social Sciences that’s doing nothing’) and practical: ‘it is medieval that we still teach students at university campuses. It’s nonsense in this digital economy.’

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Fighting back, Seldon decided to rubbish the opposition. ‘They have lots of information, but they can say nothing about its significance.’ Seldon’s argument was that life without art is devoid of meaning. Seldon begged the audience to ‘vote this heinous motion down’ and the cheers with which he was greeted pointed towards his eventual triumph.

Hobsbawm insisted that she would always be loyal to the arts, ‘I’m not a luddite that argues that there’s no point caring about dolce decorum est… We are in a unique time, when there has never been more access to free and electronic education. We are in a hyper-connected hyper-mobile world’.

Self took to the stage to reject fears of a technological revolution. ‘If you really believe that a digital education will improve the productivity of your society, start bringing up your kids by Skype’. His speech emphasised the meaning of life, which he believed could be explored by studying the arts. ‘The only thing that makes life worth living is love and soul and beauty and human touch.’

Harry Cole deliberated the motion from the viewpoint of having studied the arts for the sake of it, saying that many postgraduates have an ‘MA in sweet FA’. Richard rebutted: ‘I’m very sorry that you didn’t get anything from your degree and thus are left at the lower end of the financial totem pole as a Spectator writer’. ‘Learning to do is good’, he added, ‘but learning to think is essential.’ Harry Cole looked stumped.

Following an argument in which the opponents of the motion held large sway with the audience throughout, the motion was defeated by those who, like Self, longed to talk Geothe with their plumbers. The final score was 36:267.

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