No real degree of happiness 1

April 9, 2004

David Watson is as wrong as it is humanly possible to be ("Expansion first, quality later", April 2). He claims that "higher education participation at the levels now being achieved around the world does relate to healthier, happier, more tolerant societies".

Does he not realise that the revolutionaries, freedom fighters and "terrorists" around the world often come from the highly educated sectors of society? It is only with education that one realises the injustices of the dominant structure; only with education that one realises that there is no "peaceful" way to meaningful change.

Does he not realise that, for the majority in Britain at least, higher education leads to poorer pay and worse conditions? Over the course of a lifetime I will earn far less than the friends of my youth: welders, pipefitters and bricklayers. How does that make me "healthier, happier, more tolerant"?

Does he not realise that the more graduates we have, the less space there will be for them in the labour market and the less able the majority will be, with the result that salaries and conditions will deteriorate rapidly?

Where then the "healthier, happier, more tolerant" graduates? Anger, envy and crime will be the order of the day as graduates determine that someone has to pay for their wasted years while the welders, steel erectors and plumbers continue to earn and live better.

On the other hand, he might be talking about a future where there are no elite graduates any more so the drive for change and revolution has disappeared. This is a future where all leave with a similar type of certificate and where the learning experience has been geared to help the lowest common denominator rather than to enable the outstanding ones. This is the world where we are all socialised by the university experience to accept lower pay, worse conditions and a passivity especially welcome in the labour market. But is that the future we really want? Does that constitute "healthier, happier, more tolerant"?

Michael Derham
Senior lecturer in Spanish and Latin American studies
Northumbria University

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