Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Queen's shows no degree of sense in writing off Colin

The award winning author Colin Bateman has been turned down by Queen's University for a job as lecturer in creative writing - because he doesn't have a degree. Quite right, too.

Why would you want on your lecturing staff, an expert whose books have been praised throughout the world, have been turned into movies and won numerous awards, when you could have someone with, say, a 2.2 in Tourism Studies?

If there is such a thing as a science of looking gift horses in the mouth, Queen's University is surely a centre of excellence in the field.

The self-effacing Bateman, who teaches creative writing at the SE Regional College (where "they didn't even ask if I had passed my Cycling Proficiency"), stresses that he doesn't think he should just be able to walk into the Queen's job.

All the same.

As one of our most prolific and respected writers surely he would at least have been expected to get an interview.

A Queen's spokesperson comments stuffily: "In order to be short listed for interview all applicants for lecturing positions at Queen's must meet the essential criteria as listed in the job description. This is to ensure the process is fair for all the candidates."

So, it's just about rules-is-rules, is it? Not about university snobbery with regard to tertiary education in general and degrees in particular? The universities might see it as the gold standard but does the degree really have all that much currency in the real world anymore? Has it not become a bit like the educational equivalent of the euro? Once regarded as quite valuable but, in these recessionary times, increasingly plunging in real worth.

I noticed a letter in this paper recently from a gentleman who regularly posts on the comment section of our online edition (I don't always agree with what he says but I respect him because he is courteous, thoughtful and - unusually - uses his own name).

In the letter to the Editor, he was bemoaning the fact that his son who did well in his A levels had, bizarrely, been unable to secure a university place.

Part of me feels really sorry for the lad who is obviously talented, able and a hard worker. But part of me also thinks it's not the end of the world to have missed out on a place.

I say this as someone whose son has just finished his finals. Whether this will entail a degree, we shall see.

But even if it does, fat lot of good it will do him, I think.

That's because, as anyone with a job-seeking son or daughter will know, there's not a lot of work available for anybody young right now. The jobs available (those which generally don't require several years of experience) are in call centres, shops, fast food outlets, bars and labouring. Having a degree is not a prerequisite for any of these positions.

But never mind. I don't actually think any of this is a cause for despair. If my son does manage to secure a paying job - any paying job - it will teach him things about this world that the cloistered halls of academia never would.

I actually think it will be good for him. It may give him an opportunity to work out what he wants to do with his life - something which university has failed to do.

The apprentice scheme which this paper is championing is a brilliant idea - and another reminder that university education isn't, and shouldn't be seen as the be-all and end-all of securing work. Some of our most successful business people, some of our most brilliant writers and artists managed to reach the top without a university education.

The universities, we should remember, don't have a monopoly on degrees of genius.

Queen's, apparently, can't even recognise one.

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