Should you pay to go to university or undertake an apprenticeship or other work-related training?
This question stays in the public domain without much nuanced debate. Where governments take bold steps, such as Australia’s hiking arts degrees fees while simultaneously cutting them for STEM job-ready degrees, the outcome seems too remote to be relevant. Even our Prime Minister recently suggested a need to end the “pointless, nonsensical gulf between university and vocational education”, noting that “as old types of employment fall away, new opportunities are opening up with dizzying speed”. Both political actions may be scant comfort to the hundreds of thousands who have lost their employment. For them the opportunity of retraining for in-demand jobs like that of Amazon delivery driver or zero hours-contract Covid contact tracer are as remote and irrelevant as the dust gathered yesterday by NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft from the asteroid Bennu.
So to add no substance to this important topic, a semi-true story (read the disclaimer below) might at least add some unnecessary levity.
An acquaintance is well-known in his specialism of the law and a highly-regarded QC. Personally I think he’s a bit too inclined to pompsity but his small failings are manifestly less than my own, so please don’t think I am bowling him an unsportsmanlike underarm delivery in my description below.
Recently this QC acquired a large American-style refrigerator that not only keeps his family’s tucker cool, but additionally makes ice. This behemoth therefore requires water so a plumber was booked to do the necessaries.
Upon arrival at my friend’s remote country establishment, his equally capable wife was surprised to see a well-presented and equally well-spoken young man, who arrived on time and whose demeanor was rather different from the local (it is a very rural county) tradespeople she had met over their 20-plus years of residence.
As he set up to perform his task Mrs QC asked if he was a local to which he replied in the affirmative. He attended the local independent school (whose hallowed halls her own daughter had briefly graced). Mrs QC was a bit perplexed and asked about his educational journey from the school for the smart county set into the less hallowed halls of sanitation, pipes, drainage, etc.
Young plumber replied as follows. He had initially wanted to be an architect and won a place to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture (known as the AA), both the oldest independent school of architecture in the UK and one of the most prestigious and competitive in the world (alumni include the late Dame Zaha Hadid and the starchitect/Harvard Professor Rem Koolhaas). However, after a couple of years of expensive toil (the AA’s fees for all undergraduate students are £22k p.a.) he decided that while a prestigious profession, it was one where very few practitioners made much money or ever got to design a structure that was actually built. So he left the AA and retrained as a plumber (where and with whom is something I’d like to know, but let us get on).
“So,” Mrs QC commented, “is business good”?
“Not bad” was the reply, “I now earn twice as much as my mother”!
“Wonderful, what does she do,” asked Mrs QC?
“She’s a Queen Counsel”, was the truthful and somewhat illusion-shattering reply.
This is not entirely a work of fiction. Characters, places and incidents are not the products of the author’s imagination and have been used irreverently but not entirely fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is for legal reasons (QCs are notoriously litigious) entirely coincidental.