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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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Show comments
  • Makroon

    This “debate” sounds like one of Dimbleby’s efforts on QT, with the usual mob/audience. What does some worthy, but mediocre undergraduate, studying the history of art, have to do with “the arts” ?

  • grutchyngfysch

    “to talk Geothe with their plumbers”

    One would hope that an Arts degree would enable someone to correctly spell Goethe, plumber or not.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Hmmmmm and I wonder if anyone who didn’t waste their time getting an Arts Degree would waste their time going to a debate about whether an Arts degree is a waste of time?

    Questions to which the answer is ” Of course not”…anyone?

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    I dropped out after year 1. I do not have a degree. They really were not teaching me how to live, that is just daft. No matter what you do between 18 and 21 you do a lot of learning how to live. I don’t know what those who do a full degree course think is happening to the rest of us during that time. Is the major part giving them that false feeling of superiority? Is that why the political class despise the public?

    • dmitri the impostor

      The answer to your penultimate question is yes. The more astute graduates eventually learn that it is false but probably number less than 10%.

      Where I come from, the tutors used to invite waiting colleagues into the room with, ‘Do you want to come in and see the blood being split?’. The one useful thing I learned was to define myself in steadfast and abiding opposition to academia. I would have given the world to have missed it.

  • Kitty MLB

    You do not take a degree to earn money, you study to improve
    your intelligence, earning money is something that happens assuming
    you find a job afterwards. Assuming you were suited to the world of study
    to begin with. Lest we also forget rubbish degrees such as ‘ nail art’
    the truth is a lot leave university unsuited for work.

    • Smithersjones2013

      Well given the nonsense that so many degree endowed politicians come out with I think you have it the wrong way around. Having a degree is an entrance criteria for many forms of employment, intelligence is genetic.

      You don’t need intelligence to get a degree (especially given now so many people pay for the pleasure of going to university).

  • MC73

    I don’t agree that an arts degree is a barrier to work – most big employers will take any degree as long as it is a good one from a decent university.

    The problem is the low standard of many degrees. There are lots of rubbish ‘universities’ offering rubbish arts or social science degrees to people who would be better suited to vocational training or perhaps minor domestic labour. Get rid of them and we could afford to educate everyone worth educating to degree standard for free.

    Declaration of interest: I have an arts degree.I also have two businesses, neither of which involve lentils or hemp weaving.

  • glurk

    Look to the Universities and the meaning of what a degree is these days. The words ‘Mickey Mouse Degree’ are not used for nothing!

  • swatnan

    I think most students would just take the money … and set up their own businesses. And good luck to them. There’s no better experience than learning on the job. And learning from failure..

    • CharlietheChump

      Absolutely, a fund of £30K would be enough to get a lot of small businesses up and running and attract investment from crowd sourcing.

      Only thing is, you would have to work.

      Hard.

  • La Fold

    I done a degree to have a viable career option at the end of it. Admittedly i didnt have as much as a good time or spend my time painting placards campaigning for better lunch meat or whatever it is upper middle class white girls moan about nowadays.
    I always seem to find those who seem to get so worked up about it are those who are or have taken an arts degree. Is it a case of the lady doth protest too much?
    Want to have access to a guaranteed job market at the end of it, study medicine, the hard sciences, engineering, computing, even modern languages. Want to start a journalism career through your blog, become an intern at a multinational charity or take some time to concentrate on your DJing, do an arts degree.

    • glurk

      We who have taken art degrees get a little rattled from time to time by those who feel that a degree is something with which to validate yourself in the market place. It is not. It is the pursuit of knowledge. Or it was. Now its a box to tick for the careers teacher when sorting out the future for 16 yrs old spotty oiks!

      • La Fold

        So my engineering qualification wasnt a pursuit of knowledge then but merely a box ticking exercise was it?
        Come on we all know why you get so wound up is because of all those jokes about you staying in bed until lunch time and having 2 lectures a week. Many a true word spoken in jest though.

        • glurk

          Im absolutely certain an engineering degree is a pursuit of knowledge but because some degrees deal in absolutes is not a reason for one to despise another. However, in my experience, the students who stay in bed till lunch-time and only go to two lectures a week dont come out with firsts, either in the arts or anything else.

          • La Fold

            Ah, I get you now. To be honest I would have loved to have done a degree in history, but my degree was a part of improving my prospects in an industry I was already working in.
            Sadly, I know a couple of fellas who couldve rolled up to the last tutorial in term, cram for a couple days and still come out with top marks. There is a collective term for people like that but I could never say it in a family publication such as this.

            • glurk

              Perhaps these annoying gents were doing degrees in Public Media?

              • La Fold

                Again sadly not, but I have encountered people with degrees in corporate communications, hospitality management, human resources even fashion journalism and 20th century cinema (as if theres 17th century cinema!). I think we can both agree these are mickey mouse degrees.

                • glurk

                  Grunt! (superciliously!)

                • flaxdoctor

                  HR *degrees*??

                • La Fold

                  Yes, an HR degree.

                • flaxdoctor

                  I see. You get to pay £9k a year to go to Hendon Poly??

            • Fergus Pickering

              I think clever is the word you want.

    • fozz

      ” I done a degree”! Presumably not in English. Sorry to be a pedant but really.

      • La Fold

        It was in engineering fella, honestly couldnt give a flying monkeys about my grammar or syntax on some message board or other but hey, whatever flicks your switch treacle.

        • fozz

          When I flick a switch it’s reassuring to know the switch has been engineered to a high standard with an instruction manual telling me how to flick it written in the user’s native language to a similar standard.

          • La Fold

            You need an instruction manual to flick a switch?!
            Just how dense are you?!
            Away with you! Go fiddle with yourself while reading a boring book about something boring by a boring dead bloke or whatever it is you do to try and convince yourself of your superiority.

            • fozz

              Presumably engineers don’t do irony.

              • Kitty MLB

                They just have electromagnetic chips on their shoulders.

                • La Fold

                  electromagentic chips? Pffft, as if I have anything to do with those spark chimps fiddly bits.
                  Secondly, those jokes about staying in bed to midday must have really hurt! Itmuts be true its the scars you dont see which are the deepest, treacle.

              • La Fold

                Presumably you’d be a riot at parties. You are more boring than a dry lunch.

        • Kitty MLB

          ‘I done a degree’
          Its a pity you have such little value
          or concern for our beautiful language.
          An arts degree needs those with
          little grey cells, something you clearly lack.

          • flaxdoctor

            There’s plenty of respect for our language amongst those with non-arts degrees.

          • Makroon

            Kitty, you don’t have to believe everything posted on here you know ….

          • La Fold

            PS The next time you put the heating on, or put petrol in your car or catch a flight anywhere just remember that it was someone like me with clearly no little grey cells that made it possible.

            • Fergus Pickering

              My heating engineer is a well-read and interesting man. I also trust him. I wouldn’t trust you.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Why, since you don’t give a flying monkey’s about grammar, do you waste everybody’s time posting your illiteracies here?

    • Fergus Pickering

      Can we take it you are a working class black girl? ‘I done it’ is, I think blackspeak.

  • Tom M

    To me “An Arts Degree is a Waste of Time and Money” should have “if you wish to make a living out of it” added to the end. Then it makes more sense.

  • Noa

    An arts degree is an eminently suitable qualification for a career in the fast growing, retail high street charity shop sector.

    • Kitty MLB

      Do you include the classics and philosophy in that also.
      Those who study our great literature, music, languages,
      and the likes of Hippocrates, Draco, and Plato, the foundations
      of medicine the rule of law and mathematics- awfully bright for a
      little job in the fast growing retail high street charity shop sector.

      • Noa

        Certainly, when opportunity, or rather, the lack of it, presents itself it is no respecter of disciplines.
        I find the PhDs’ and MAs’ who work in Oxfam and Shelter are both courteous and informed on Spinosa, if not of the consequences of
        Directive 2004/38/EC, facilitating freedom of movement in the EU, which more directly affects their career and employment opportunities
        However both doctors (medical) and lawyers tend to limit their own numbers, so increasing their value in their specialist markets.

  • LadyDingDong

    The debate should have been (pre-2010): ‘Should taxpayers pay for stupid people to get useless degrees?’ but since today’s students no longer have the luxury afforded to my generation, the question should now be: ‘Why do stupid people pay up to £9,000 a year to get useless degrees?’ By the way, I would have voted against anything proposed by that egregious egotist Will Self on the basis that he is always wrong.

    • Tom M

      Amen to the last sentence.

    • La Fold

      Will Self- Congratulatory? Pffft, i can remember him in a discussion talking about how normal working people felt. Pretty sure he must know how tough it can be that is being a Professor of comtemporary thought at Brunel university. being oxford educated and going to an independent school.
      Why do nerks like this always want to speak for people like me when they would cross the road as soon as speak to people like me?

      • Fergus Pickering

        Why would they cross the road? Do you look funny or smell or something? Don’t be silly. If you have something to say I am sure he would talk to you. But you probably wouldn’t talk to him.

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