Sometimes a Guardian pundit, emulating Tantalus, gets so agonisingly near to the point but still fails to get it. The week before last it was Polly Toynbee with her astonishingly effective polemic for the abolition of all public spending..
why should those without children pay for schools? Or those without cars pay for roads? Or the great majority who never use trains pay for the 4% who commute by rail? Or those outside London contribute £1bn a year to the tube? Or southerners pay for the Angel of the North, while ballet-haters pay for Covent Garden? And why should the majority pay for social housing or tax credits they will never use?
..that somehow managed to conclude with the opposite recommendation. Today sees Stephen Moss ask what he imagines is a rhetorical question:
Was my degree - in modern history - worth £9,000?
Of course the only way to know the answer is if he actually had to pay the £9,000. Moss is evidently unembarrassed by his dilettantism as he explains exactly what he got up to, while "studying" for his degree:
I learned to play crown green bowls, until someone used the bowls to bombard the neighbouring college. I became expert in table football, with one of the most feared forward lines in the junior common room. I had a beer with Ted Hughes and Seumas Heaney after a poetry reading and was hugely impressed by their leather jackets. I saw a lot of Fassbinder films, none of which I can now recall. But £9,000?
Of course, it doesn't seem to occur to him that somebody paid for his education, it just wasn't Moss himself - for the three or four years he idled away his time, watching and forgetting Fassbinder's oeuvre, a plumber was working away fixing boilers so that his taxes could subsidise this layabout.
The best response to the government's plan to create a market in university education is a mass boycott by would-be humanities students
Now, he's edging towards the point,
..some of the most interesting, thoughtful, well-read people I've met since I graduated 25 years ago have never been near a university. The University of Life is free - and has much the boldest and broadest degree courses. Its alumni have read for themselves and learned to think for themselves - for no better reason than they wanted to.
Humanities students don't really need to go to university, and if the government wins the day over tuition fees I hope most will save their money - or, rather, spend it on travel, the novels of Henry James and Joseph Conrad (hands up those 20-year-olds who have read both widely), a Nietzsche (typical that I had to look up the spelling) omnibus, histories of ancient Greece and Rome, language courses, theatre and opera tickets, perhaps even the films of Fassbinder.
Of course, this perfect example of common sense isn't a serious proposal. Moss imagines that such a "strike" would force universities to reconsider what he asserts is their utilitarianism and embrace education for its own sake instead of a means to an end. To paraphrase John Holbo: Doubts about the correctness of non-graduates subsidising graduates' education do not fall within the scope of the article, as it were.