Trade imbalance

April 16, 2004

I was astonished by Michael Derham's prediction that graduates will feel increasing anger and envy that "welders, steel erectors and plumbers continue to earn and live better" ("No real degree of happiness", Letters, April 9).

Why? The worth of a degree is not to be measured by the wage of the job at the end of it; its lasting value is the priceless gift of the education itself.

To accept the privilege of a university education and then to feel anger that one does not also enjoy an automatic lifelong right to enhanced cash rewards shows extraordinary ingratitude. Imagine how the skilled artisans whose taxes pay for graduates' education see this.

I know several welders who are paid far more than me; they do hard, dirty, dangerous work and earn every penny. One took an Open University degree for the sheer love of learning, and did very well. He saw nothing strange in being a welder with a psychology degree; graduates envious of welders'

wages are free to enter engineering trades themselves, assuming they are capable of learning the skills.

To avoid the resentment Derham predicts, we need not turn away those who want to study for degrees - rather, we should be honest about what they should hope to gain. If they are receptive, higher education can broaden their minds immeasurably, give them rhetorical, analytical and communication skills and perhaps teach them some wisdom along the way. What they do with these gifts is up to them.

Jamie Davies
Edinburgh University

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