Down with arts

June 2, 2009

Tom Whipple
283 words
20 March 2009
The Times
(c) 2009 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved

When Cambridge University announced this week that applicants must have an A* at A level, it was accused of favouring the privileged few who get intense coaching at independent schools. Some years ago, when one of the colleges said that it would look favourably on state school applicants, it was accused of social engineering. Whatever Cambridge does, it will be criticised. But it could broaden intake, maintain a fair applications system and help the economy at the same time. Statistics have the answer.

Cambridge records intake by subject and school type — 75 per cent of classicists come from independent schools, compared with 20 per cent of mathematicians. If classics were abolished, say, and maths expanded, the problem would be solved. This method has an obvious hitch: classics professors might decry it as equally pernicious social engineering. If only there were some way to argue that the subjects favoured by posh kids — the arts — also happened to be intrinsically useless? If only there were an axis of usefulness where classics came out worst and maths best? Well there is.

A year after graduation, Cambridge students are asked whether they are employed, in further education or neither. Plot the data on a graph and the conclusion is unmistakable: the more useless a degree, the more likely it is to be studied by the wealthy — 12 per cent of classicists aren’t in work or education a year later; the rate for mathematicians is half that.

The Government’s course of action is clear: to make the economy stronger and academia fairer, it needs to slash funding for the arts, and make everyone study statistics instead.


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