When I went to university there were places for only 10% of each age cohort. By implication, the cut-off IQ level was around 120. Selection was based on examination results and an interview. At my university (Cambridge) there were men’s colleges and women’s colleges and men outnumbered women 10-to-1.
Now the situation is very different, throughout the rich world. About 50% of school leavers go on to university, which means that the implied IQ threshold is around 100 and a university degree does not have the cachet it used to. So it matters more which university one has gained a degree from.
In the UK there is the ‘Russell Group’, which includes Oxford and Cambridge; in the USA there is the ‘Ivy League’. Here in Australia the Australian National University (ANU) stands at the head of a handful of Australian universities in TopUniversities’ global Top 100. ANU is ranked 20 and the Universities of Melbourne, New South Wales, Queensland and Sydney are bunched between 40 and 50.
The University of Adelaide is ranked 109. This is not bad, but if a foreign student is looking for somewhere to gain a prestigious degree he/she will probably prefer one of the others. So what is the University of Adelaide doing to clamber up the rankings? According to recent reports it is:
- Seeking to merge with the University of South Australia, which is ranked 264.
- About to advertise eight academic posts, for which only women may apply. The pool of potential candidates, from which one hopes the university will select the best, has been reduced by 50%.
On top of that, I have just read an article in the Guardian Weekly saying that the Russell Group universities have been criticised for failing “to recruit students from neighbourhoods where few traditionally enter higher education.” Labour MP David Lammy is quoted as saying, “Real progress in this area will require radical and punitive action by the government and Office for Students.”
I know I risk being called an elitist, and perhaps I am. The kind of education that can and should be given to someone near the top of the intelligence bell curve is not the same as can and should be given to someone in the middle. Moreover, in even the most egalitarian of societies there must be a highly educated layer of leadership with exceptional qualities. Intelligence is not the only quality that matters, but it’s probably the most important and it correlates positively with some of the others. Fiddling with recruitment of staff or students in the interests of social engineering is dangerous and wrong and it makes me stroppy.
Does anyone disagree?
An Australian federal politician, Fraser Anning, has just made his maiden speech in the Senate, in which he called for a return to the White Australia Policy and a ban on Muslim immigration. Just to make sure he had everyone offside he talked of this being the ‘final solution’.
When it was pointed out to him that the very phrase ‘final solution’ was indissolubly linked in everyone’s mind to Hitler, Nazism and the attempted annihilation of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other undesirables, he said his words were taken out of context.
Either he doesn’t know what the ‘final solution’ is in historical terms, in which case he may be considered too ignorant to be a useful member of the legislature; or he’s too lacking in sensitivity, political savvy and common sense to be a useful member of the legislature. Either way . . .
Mind you, Mr Anning is not alone in his choice of infelicitous words. How often, even now, do we hear politicians and activists claiming to be on a ‘crusade’?
Yes, I know, in in our nice liberal secular democracies the word ‘crusade’ just means a passionately executed campaign – nothing to do with the repeated Christian assaults on the so-called Holy Land in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. But to a great many Muslims, even today and even in educated circles, the word is still burdened with its original meaning. Its casual use only confirms the suspicion that The West has hostile intent towards Islam and its followers.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
I usually follow the film critics’ advice, and often consult the Rotten Tomatoes website before investing my time at a cinema. But I made an exception for ‘Mama Mia! Here We Go Again’ – the sequel to ‘Mamma Mia’ with an all-star cast and the music of Abba front and centre.
The critics panned it but there was a special showing for charity and Mrs SG and I were invited to go with a group. And how glad we were that we went.
It’s corny and schmaltzy and syrupy, yes, and it shamelessly exploits nost-Abba-algia. But if one accepts it as a series of video clips held together by a flimsy plot, it’s brilliant and thoroughly entertaining. In fact, if one thinks of it as an opera, dragging one dizzily through a steamy emotional jungle set to music, it sits at high table. It even features a dead woman, which adds to the operatic likeness.
And there’s another thing. As we left the cinema I found myself thinking of the last-but-one Pixar film: ‘Coco’. Both films celebrate and sentimentalise our place in the river of life – the endless flow of generations, each one building on the experience, the achievements and the follies of all that went before, and honouring them. I find that moving.