Hamill’s Beat - Students who go to ‘uni’ should be sent down

editorial image

Here’s a difference between north and south that you may not have noticed. It seems that the six counties and the 26 counties are two parts of the same island divided by a common language.

Most students in the south moving to third-level say they’re going to “college”.

It’s different here in the north. Most students here say they’re going to “university” or nowadays they may say “uni”. Using the contraction “uni” is cringe inducing. It’s uncool. It has undertones of inverted snobbery. It’s infra dig.

I blame English soap-operas. By the way, that also illustrates a wider point about academic inflation.

In my day people in TV soaps didn’t go to “college” or “uni” or “university”, except for Corrie’s then young intellectual, Ken Barlow. He was different. Come to think of it, he still is.

All credit to people in the Republic for having the good sense to resist at least one trendy expression from England. Please don’t weaken, in the face of soap-opera imperialism.

Understatement is always more elegant than overstatement. Less is more. It’s more stylish to go to “college” than to go to “university” never mind the indignity of going to “uni”.

Nobody loses street cred or prestige by going to “college”. In the traditional model, degrees are awarded by universities to those who study at colleges.

In the Republic the universities have mostly stuck with that older model. For instance, University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin are constituent colleges of the National University and Dublin University respectively. Sticking to that tradition has helped.

We don’t need to stoke academic inflation. It does nobody any good – yet we try hard to undermine educational achievement at every level. We can’t resist puffing air into every institution and qualification.

These days, even toddlers ‘graduate’ from playschool with mortar boards and gowns. What’s that all about? Then they go to a primary school which probably gets the grand title of an academy. Meanwhile, second level schools have become colleges. Technical schools have become colleges of further and higher education. The old polytechs have become universities. The process is relentless. Universities now even boast about their pastoral care and their remedial support. In my day people were simply expected to grow up and cope.

A grade C at A Level has become a grade A or even A*. Pass degrees have become honours degrees. A 2.2 degree was once considered something to be proud of but now anything below a 2.1 isn’t considered worthwhile. Meanwhile the percentage of students getting 2.1 degrees and firsts has increased exponentially.

Does anyone think pupils and students are actually getting smarter? Of course they’re not.

Teaching standards have improved but examination standards have also been dumbed down. Patrick Murphy in the Irish Newsb recently gave us examples of questions from GCSE papers.

For instance, candidates in religious studies are given a Gospel extract. “As Jesus was coming near Jericho…” A question is, “near what town did the story take place?” In geography the candidates are given newspaper reports on an earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale and a volcanic eruption on Mount Asam. Separate questions ask the strength of the earthquake and the name of the volcano. They would have been ‘penalty kicks’ even on an old 11+ paper.

So, here’s my suggestion for an ‘A’ level question based on something said in a recent radio interview. “I went to uni and done my degree in marketing but I cannae fine a job,” [sic] said an unemployed graduate. Apart from getting the past tense of the verb ‘to do’ wrong and mispronunciations, based on your reading of this column, what’s the most annoying expression the graduate used?