Monday, April 03, 2006

Speaking of interviews ...

... V.S. Naipaul is his usual contrarian self in this one at The Literary Review:
V S Naipaul talks to Farrukh Dhondy .

" think these universities have passed their peak. The very idea of the university may be finished. In Oxford, for a long time, they were producing divines. Then it took a turn and the University began to produce smart people. The idea of learning came quite late, in the early nineteenth century perhaps, and it went on some way into the twentieth. Now, apart from sciences, there seems to be no purpose to a university education. The Socialists want to send everybody to these places. I feel that these places ought to be wrapped up and people should buy their qualifications at the Post Office. "


  1. The one in which he trashes everyone to everyone in his regular Naipaulisque way, eh?

  2. You peeked, Vikram. Yes, the same irascible Vidia we have all come to know and love. And the guy does write extraordinarily well.

  3. I could be out of context here, but in the extract you have posted, Frank, Naipaul seems to have got the wrong end of the stick. Oxford and Cambridge universities were both founded "way back when" (people argue about that, there is evidence of a Saxon learning centre in Oxford) -- let's say 11 th century for the sake of argument. The universities made everyone who attended sign a declaration (not unlike Seed's competition rules!) that they would not teach at any other learning establishment.
    Hence, Oxford and Cambridge were the only two higher education establishments in England/Wales for centuries, until some rebels founded the University of Durham in the 19th century.

    So it was old-fashioned protectionism, rather than "the idea of learning coming quite late" that led to the explosion of universities and the like in the 19th and 20th centuries.

    Now, of course, it is silly, everywhere in the UK is a university (but proportionally few teach subjects like maths and physics, as Naipaul points out). And young people are forced to go to them (and pay fees) to get a "degree" which they need for a job.

    So there is a purpose, in the sense that it is hard to get a reasonable job in the UK without some kind of degree.

    I agree that this does not seem sensible or right, and puts a lot of young people into debt for a fairly useless degree in a subject like "media", but I don't think that the "idea of learning" came late. Look at the great social reformers of the victorian times and subsequently -- right up until the 1960s when the whole downslide into mass "higher education" in bonkers areas began.

    I think Naipaul would find, if he looked into it, that sending off in the post for a degree is a time-honoured practice.

  4. I think that in education, as in much else, Gresham's Law applies: Bad money drives out good. The good thing today is that if you genuinely want to learn you are not going to be prevented from doing so because of class or race or religion, and probably not even because of economic hardship. The bad thing is the proliferation of those "bonkers areas."