Anglia Ruskin chief defends higher education during visit to Wisbech Grammar School

A UNIVERSITY chief mounted a vigorous defence of higher education in Britain during a visit to Wisbech Grammar School.

In a debate against head boy Joshua York and head girl Alice Wong, Professor Michael Thorne, vice chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University, attacked the motion that there was no need for a university education in the 21st century.

He conceded that there was nothing in this world which would guarantee anyone a job, but claimed that graduates were less likely to be unemployed than any other groups.

It was true that employers complained about the numeric and language capabilities of students, together with the lack of enthusiasm that students showed for the employment they were seeking.

But, overall, the media were presenting a false picture of what was actually happening in the world of higher education in this country.

Prof Thorne said: “We have this perverse press with a certain mindset about universities. The media simply do not understand what happens when people make choices.”

He also said the press was guilty of tramline thinking and making the assumption that young people choosing degree courses were intent on pursuing closely related career paths.

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However, reading English did not mean that you planned to be a novelist and opting for media studies was not a statement that you planned to work for the BBC. In fact, many media studies graduates earned better salaries than their peers in other fields in the first five years of employment.

Half of the people graduating in chemistry were finding jobs in the city of London because pay in science, technology and engineering was terrible in the early stages of careers.

The number one bestseller at A Level worldwide was psychology, but graduates in the subject often ended up with successful careers in marketing – and of the nine per cent of medical graduates who switched into other professions, the favoured option was journalism.

Prof Thorne said: “The CBI has written a lot of rubbish about skill shortages, but we are producing scientists at one-and-a-half times the rate of the United States. If there is a shortage it is because employers are not paying the money.

“Up until now we have been getting a bargain with the university system in this country. We all benefit from these universities.

“This is the only developed country in the world where the entire burden of university education is going to be placed on the students going to universities, with the only exceptions being subjects such as medicine and dentistry. That makes us exceptional in the world here in the United Kingdom.”

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