Do we mean earnest and studious reading in the university library? Or do we mean something that promotes more free thinking and a genuine spirit of enquiry?
It is a question raised in the Spectator by Rory Sutherland of the advertising company Ogilvy, in an article titled Why I’m hiring graduates with thirds this year. It is one of the most life-affirming articles I have ever read:
It’s hard to tell the difference between a university and a business school nowadays. Where are all the hippies, the potheads and the commies? And why is everyone so intently serious and sober all the time? ‘Oh, it’s simple,’ a friend explained. ‘If you don’t get a 2:1 or a first nowadays, employers won’t look at your CV.’
So, as a keen game-theorist, I struck on an idea. Recruiting next year’s graduate intake for Ogilvy would be easy. We could simply place ads in student newspapers: ‘Headed for a 2:2 or a third? Finish your joint and come and work for us.’
Let me explain. I have asked around, and nobody has any evidence to suggest that, for any given university, recruits with first-class degrees turn into better employees than those with thirds (if anything the correlation operates in reverse). There are some specialised fields which may demand spectacular mathematical ability, say, but these are relatively few.
So my game theoretic instincts suggest that if we confine our recruitment efforts to people in the lower half of the degree ladder we shall have an exclusive appeal to a large body of people no less valuable than anyone else. And such people will be far more loyal hires, since we won’t be competing for their attention with deep-pocketed pimps in investment banking.What Sutherland calls “this credentialist arms-race” is getting us nowhere. I think he’s on to something.
Oh, and me? I spent most of my time at university buggering about in student politics or in the union bar. Still got a 2:1, though. Damn, damn, damn...