When he was PM, Tony Blair promised to make sure 50 per cent of all Britons got a university education. An overly ambitious goal you might think, but one that’s nonetheless in sight.
At present, 22.6 per cent of Britons aged 25 to 64 boast a bachelor’s degree or higher. You can be forgiven for heaving a sigh of relief and wiping your brow: we’re only halfway towards Blair’s desired destination.
But looking at a different subset changes the picture: 52 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 attained some form of tertiary education. Another burst of speed, and the country will throw its chest at the finish tape, winning the race towards perdition.
Such inclusivity (dread word) has been achieved at a cost: universities qua universities no longer exist. They have become either trade schools or indoctrination centres.
The trade schools train students to make a living in fields like computer science, IT, engineering, science, finance, business administration. The sole purpose of the indoctrination centres, otherwise known as humanities departments, seems to be pumping students’ heads full of woke ideological dynamite, turning them into walking time bombs primed to blow up any semblance of sound thought.
Both parts fail to come anywhere near what one of our finest minds, John Henry Newman, saw as the essence of higher education. In his 1852 book The Idea of a University Newman identified the eponymous idea as teaching students “to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and to analyse”.
In the end, students were to acquire a “perfection of the intellect… the clear, calm, accurate vision and comprehension of all things”, a goal that what passes for a university nowadays not only misses but manifestly doesn’t even set.
Our humanities departments don’t teach students to think, understand and argue. They indoctrinate them to despise thought, eschew understanding and reduce argument to hysterical, often violent, shrieks.
Instead of debating subjects like nominalism or being and existence or politics and (or versus?) statesmanship, today’s university students froth at the mouth defending an unlimited number of sexes and a prescribed set of pronouns.
Not only do they choose ideologies over ideas, but they are also increasingly incapable of telling the difference. This has deadly consequences for the country, for upon graduation such half-witted, ill-bred ideologues will inhabit our media, arts establishment, political institutions and of course university faculties. Gonadic, ideological sub-culture devoid of any intellectual or moral content becomes a gift that keeps on giving.
Times change and, alas, today’s universities can’t be expected to conform fully to Newman’s worthy ideas. But one would still hope that neither would they be spewing out graduates who resemble en masse China’s Red Guards during the Great Leap Forward.
There is a difference, however, between their cultural revolution and ours. Chinese Hongweibings denounced, shouted down and even assaulted their professors for being too reactionary.
Their typological British equivalents have no need for such excesses: their professors are just like them. They egg on their students and join them in rooting out every sapling of sound, free thought. Such is the natural effect of recycling brainless radicalism: yesterday’s campus firebrands become today’s dons.
Dominic Sandbrook cites telling data: “In a revealing survey two years ago, the think-tank Policy Exchange found that just nine per cent of academics had voted Leave in the Brexit referendum, while only seven per cent identified themselves as ‘right of Centre’.
“Most disturbingly, only half said they would feel comfortable sitting next to a Leave supporter at lunch, while just a third said they would be comfortable beside somebody who questioned their transgender dogma.”
I have no doubt that the same or similar proportions hold true at all our mainstream TV channels including the BBC, institutions like the Arts Council, the National Trust, the Church of England – even Parliament. Why wouldn’t they?
After all, how many structural engineers and microbiologists are employed at those institutions? Very few, I’d suggest. Most of our opinion formers have been extruded by the mincers of humanities departments, expertly grinding down the meat of thought into the manure of kneejerk, febrile idiocy.
Hence I find it hard to share Sandbrook’s optimistic conclusion that in no way follows from his own perceptive analysis: “But I’m convinced there are countless sane, sensible people in the arts, the media, publishing and education who are sick of this nonsense, and of the shrieking and howling that accompanies it.”
No doubt. Yet exactly the same could be said about the Soviet Union of my youth and even China during the Cultural Revolution. The problem is that, when totalitarian ideology holds sway, such people are impotent.
The best they can do is save their own souls by trying not to go along with the dominant evil. Active resistance may be heroic to the point of being suicidal but it’s also futile. Once totalitarians reach critical mass, they stamp out resistance without working up a sweat.
In communist countries, “sane, sensible” people putting up resistance lost their freedom, often their lives. In Britain, they so far risk only ostracism and a life of self-contained obscurity. Yet their resistance is as doomed to failure as it was in the countries I mentioned.
An analogy from a different field may elucidate matters.
Agrarians have an effective method of stopping blights, such as locusts. They catch large numbers of male insects, sterilise them with radiation and release them back into the wild. The males follow their instincts and mate with the females, yet no impregnation occurs. This destroys the reproduction cycle, thereby stamping out the threat to the crops.
Our universities apply the same technique to the cultural and intellectual life of the nation. “Sane, sensible” students are howled down, marginalised and ultimately sterilised. They are then released into life to push their country into the swamp previously inhabited only by communist and fascist creepy-crawlies.