Mickey Mouse degrees are just the job

OK then, let's have a good snigger. Let's all look at the list of these so-called degrees, and sneer at the pathetic delusions of the students who are taking them. In the saloon bars of England, it is by now a settled conviction that the university system is riddled with a kind of intellectual dry rot, and it is called the Mickey Mouse degree. Up and down the country - so we are told - there are hundreds of thousands of dur-brained kids sitting for three years in an alcoholic or cannabis-fuelled stupor while theoretically attending a former technical college that is so pretentious as to call itself a university. After three years of taxpayer-funded debauch, these young people will graduate, and then the poor saps will enter the workplace with an academic qualification that is about as valuable as membership of the Desperate Dan Pie Eaters' Club, and about as intellectually distinguished as a third-place rosette in a terrier show. It is called a Degree, and in the view of saloon bar man, it is a con, a scam, and a disgrace. Kids these days! says our man with the pint of Stella, slapping The Daily Telegraph on the bar. Look at the rubbish they study! 'Ere, he says, finding an account of the recent investigation by the Taxpayers' Alliance, which has compiled a list of the 401 "non-courses" being offered by our universities. In a satirically portentous tone he reads out the brochure of Marjon College in Plymouth, which really is offering a three-year BA (Hons) degree in Outdoor Adventure With Philosophy. Yes, he says with incredulous sarcasm, the dons at Marjon College give instruction in the ancient discipline of Outdoor Adventure by examining its "underpinning philosophy, historical antecedents, significant influences, environmental and sustainable aspects and current trends"; and just in case you thought that wasn't quite rigorous enough, they guarantee that "the modules will include elements such as journeys, environmental management, creative indoor study and spirituality". Absurd! cries saloon bar man, and then jabs his finger at yet greater absurdities: a course at the University of Glamorgan in "Science: Fiction and Culture"; and get this - the Welsh College of Horticulture is offering anyone with four Cs at GCSE the chance to study for an Honours degree in "Equestrian Psychology"! It's a degree in horse whispering! he says. It's bonkers. Why, he asks rhetorically, are we paying for students to waste their time on these Mickey Mouse courses, when it is perfectly obvious what they should be doing. Trades! Skills! Craft! This country doesn't need more bleeding degrees in media studies and whispering into horses' ears! What we need is people who can fix my septic tank! We need more plumbers," he raves, and it's not just because he resents paying so much for his Polish plumber; it's because the whole university business is - in his view - such a cruel deception on so many young people. They rack up an average of £13,000 of debt for some noddy qualification, when they would have been far better off getting stuck into a job after leaving school and engaging in an old-fashioned apprenticeship. That's what he thinks; and that, I bet, is not a million miles from the view of many eminent readers. And yet I have to say that this view of higher education - pandemic in Middle Britain - is hypocritical, patronising and wrong. I say boo to the Taxpayers' Alliance, and up with Mickey Mouse courses, and here's why. The saloon bar view is hypocritical, in the sense that it is always worth interrogating the saloon bar critics about their aspirations for their own children or grandchildren. Would they like them to have degrees? Or would they like them to have some kind of explicitly vocational training? It is notable how often a critic of university expansion is still keen for his or her own children to go there, while a vocational qualification is viewed as an excellent option for someone else's children. It is patronising, in that you really can't tell, just by reading a course title, whether it is any good or not, and whether it will be of any intellectual or financial benefit to the student. The other day my normally humane and reasonable colleague Andrew O'Hagan paraded the idea of a degree in "Artificial Intelligence", as though it were intrinsically risible, and for 20 years we have all been scoffing at degrees in "media studies". But AI is one of the most potentially interesting growth areas in computer science; and the truth about Media Studies is that its graduates have very high rates of employment and remuneration. Of course there are mistakes, and of course there are a great many students who drop out, get depressed, or feel they have done the wrong thing with their lives. But the final judge of the value of a degree is the market, and in spite of all the expansion it is still the case that university graduates have a big salary premium over non-graduates. The market is working more efficiently now that students have a direct financial stake in the matter, a financial risk, and an incentive not to waste their time on a course that no employer will value. It is ridiculous for these saloon-bar critics to denounce "Mickey Mouse" degrees, and say that the students would be better off doing vocational courses - when the whole point is that these degrees are very largely vocational. We can laugh at degrees in Aromatherapy and Equine Science, but they are just as vocational as degrees in Law or Medicine, except that they are tailored to the enormous expansion of the service economy. It is rubbish to claim that these odd-sounding courses are somehow devaluing the Great British Degree. Everyone knows that a First Class degree in Physics from Cambridge is not the same as a First in Equine Management from the University of Lincoln, and the real scandal is that they both cost the student the same. There again, who is to say where a Mickey Mouse course may lead? The last time I looked, Disney had revenues of 33 billion dollars a year - and if any university offered a course in the Life and Works of Mickey Mouse, I wouldn't blame them in the least.

46 thoughts on “Mickey Mouse degrees are just the job”

  1. Welcome back Boris, and thanks for a return to the usual standards of drivel. How my heart leaps with delight to read your words and then dash out for a quick vomit.
    “But the final judge of the value of a degree is the market”.
    Yes, indeed, let’s make sure that our children are marketable, and applaud the universities churning out faculty loads of greedy, vacuous, inarticulate, selfish and self absorbed marketeers, accountants, public relations consultants and telesales executives, with their ipods, iphones, blackberries and designer labels, with not a care for the demise of the world through the efforts of their newly sucked-up-to employers. God save Mrs T, for it is she who taught us that only those things that can be sold are worthy of praise.
    And of course there is a place for those who care for others – once they have paid back their loans, got a job, a crippling mortgage and invested enough in a pension fund so that they are not condemned to the workhouse when they retire. They should be fit and able to volunteer when they are 75.

  2. “Why … are we paying for students to waste their time on these Mickey Mouse courses, when it is perfectly obvious what they should be doing. Trades! Skills! Craft! This country doesn’t need more bleeding degrees in media studies and whispering into horses’ ears! What we need is people who can fix my septic tank! We need more plumbers” – Boris Johnson

    Now becoming quite experienced with the smear-Boris industry I can confidently say that that quote is going to come back to haunt him, even if the three words removed were “he asks rhetorically”.

    Anyway, a good point Boris, we should be putting our faith in the market. After all, Universities are not part of the public sector even if a fair chunk of their money comes from it.

    And Vicus: “Yes, indeed, let’s make sure that our children are marketable, and applaud the universities churning out faculty loads of greedy, vacuous, inarticulate, selfish and self absorbed marketeers, accountants, public relations consultants and telesales executives…”?
    Given that one of the degrees Boris was defending was “Outdoor Adventure With Philosophy” I’m not sure that’s a fair accusation! In any case, student loans favour those who don’t enter the competitive and well-paid market. They never end up having to pay it back.

  3. I can confidently say that that quote is going to come back to haunt him Jack Target.

    My first thoughts too, Jack. But Boris knows what he’s doing. Let Ken’s cronies make utter fools of themselves by quoting whole chunks of this article out of context.

  4. churning out faculty loads of greedy, vacuous, inarticulate, selfish and self absorbed marketeers, accountants, public relations consultants

    Vicus I `m not entirely sure that being employable necessarily makes you greedy, vacuous, inarticulate, selfish and self absorbed. The slant of our economy and academic world has been skewed to the arts and services for historical reasons and as a result we end up doing nothing but media and services. Hence London is the only City paying 1/3 of corporation tax for the UK. Vocational degrees are a step forward and while they may reflect the slant of the economy now , in the long terms they will assist in rebalancing the country away from private Equity and back to goods.

    The idea of , shall we say , cultural learning’s ,of a small Island , being a spiritual substitute for religion is chortlesome in the way some old buffer wearing a blazer waiting for a bus makes you snicker. Jane Austen approached her art as a skill or craft. The countless worthy Victorian unknowns that disgorged their learning onto endless volumes were usually academics Causabonishly convinced of their special place in culture . The modern novel continues the dull progress. A vocation is a good way to start a Liberal education merely a ticket to supercilious self delight and almost entirely a matter of excluding the “lower orders”

    Oh I have been defending Boris on my blog if anyone is intyerested . This wasa good article some chuckles fiendishly sneaked in under the guise of devil`s advocate and sound sense to wrap it up

  5. Well,

    Loath as I am to currently agree publicly with Boris, he is bang on the button when talking about ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees. Many of these courses shouldn’t even be at degree level; do you need a BA Honours to practice aromatherapy?

    Standards are rotting overall. I was elected the General Secretary of the National Postgraduate Committee recently and in my first interview with THES, I stated that after a summer teaching in a ‘summer school’ at a famous London University, I found universities were lowering standards to bring in rich international students for financial reason only. This is a really bad situation and reflects the influence of money over academic integrity found in many Russell Group establishments.

    When I was an undergraduate, over 10 years ago, international students were hardworking, intelligent and made the most of a UK education. Indeed, for those from India, Singapore, HK and other similar places the parents had sacrificed years of savings to send their child to the UK. Not anymore, the Nouveau Rich of Latin America and Russia hold sway and rather than working for a decent grade, demand a pass and little more in the exchange for vast sums of money. And best not argue, they don’t like that and University Senates usually prefer to keep the peace and the dollars flowing.

    Universities need to fund themselves, but not at the expense of standards. Whether it is a Mickey Mouse degree in Aromatherapy or a lower standard of entry and success in exchange for a large sum of money, the rot is pervasive and in my view, currently unsolvable.

  6. Hello All,

    Stumbled upon this blog by doing a search “politicians on line”.
    Congrats to you people of UK who have them online to “speak” to them.

    As to the topic, well it hurts to say that after 18 years in school, in my city, in Mexico, a plumber earns more per visit in an hr, not counting materials, than a person with a degree earns in a day.

    Oh geezzzz…. a trade or skill never hurts to have. I guess my parents had it a bit wrong, over valued the degree paper and never encouraged us to pick a “sale-able trade”. Now that we are living in times where a service pays more than a degree, and where formal traditional jobs are scarce, I should start learning how to fix air conditioners. 🙂

    Best wishes from Mexico,
    B

  7. Mr Garza, may I welcome you, even though I have no authority to do so on behalf of anyone else. They are all quite civilised here, so I am sure that I am not the only one to welcome you.
    In terms of your main point, if I have water pouring through my ceiling, I would be very pleased to see a plumber. I cannot envisage an emergency in which I would need a 24 hour marketer or public relations consultant.

  8. _In the saloon bars of England, it is by now a settled conviction that the university system is riddled with a kind of intellectual dry rot, and it is called the Mickey Mouse degree._

    Don’t you mean the ‘beer gardens’ of England Boz, as the former are now deserted thanks to the smoking ban?

  9. Mr Garza, may I welcome you, even though I have no authority to do so on behalf of anyone else. They are all quite civilised here, so I am sure that I am not the only one to welcome you.
    In terms of your main point, if I have water pouring through my ceiling, I would be very pleased to see a plumber. I cannot envisage an emergency in which I would need a 24 hour marketer or public relations consultant.

  10. Actually I’m sure I want to be a Tory, I’ve been thinking recently and I’ve been thinking that Marxism is the way forward for the UK in today’s global economy. I’m sorry Boris, but I can’t agree with anything you say anymore and I’m going to have to show your nasty right-wing article for what it really is.

    < “OK then, let’s have a good snigger. Let’s all look at the list of these so-called degrees, and sneer at the pathetic delusions of the students who are … a kind of intellectual dry rot …” (Boris Johnsson MP)<

    You see! You see! The man is an elistist snob, if Boris Johnson had his way working class children would be clamped in irons and rented out to any South-African gem miner that cared to make a small cheque payable to ‘The Conservative Party’.

    < “Up and down the country … there are hundreds of thousands of dur-brained kids … attending a former technical college that is … three years of taxpayer-funded debauch … the poor saps will enter the workplace … about as valuable … and … as intellectually distinguished as a … terrier.” (Boris Johnson MP)<

    How can London elect a man that believes equates having a degree that wasn’t from Oxbridge as having the intelligence of a dog and expect a diverse city such as London to vote for him. Chairman Ken has absolutely nothing to worry about from the evil Boris Johnson.

    < “In … Plymouth … kids sitting for three years in an alcoholic or cannabis-fuelled stupor … from Cambridge cost … 33 billion dollars a year.” (Boris Johnson MP) <

    National disgrace, baby-eating Boris of Balliol, now incites ethnic cleansing of the indigeneous population of cambridge, mirroring Adolf Hilter’s scapegoating of the Jewish people, Johnson’s sinister ulterior motives come to light in this chilling quote from his article in the Daily Telepgraph. First Johnson’s Etonian chums force the indigenous population of Cambridge to seek refuge on the South Coast, now that they are forcing up the price of morrings on Plymouth mariner Johnson advocates …….

  11. May I point out that the duplication of comments here is due to some problem (probably at the server end) on the internet, and not due to the fact that all the readers are so abysmally stupid that we all have to repeat everything?
    I said …

  12. On a serious note, I largely agree with the article, however I would sound a word of caution.

    An increasing number of professional associations are developing degree courses within their expanding vocations. Here are some degree courses I found on UCAS:

    Occupational Safety and Health

    Health and Safety Management

    Public Health

    Occupational Health and Safety Management

    Ethnicity and Human Rights

    Sustainable Development

    At the risk of sounding like the saloon-bar Stella man (ironically I’m on the supermarket own brand of imported continental premium lager) haven’t we got enough of these meddlers already? Why should we pay to indoctrinate more of them into the ever-increasingly authoritarian public sector we’re developing under New Labour?

    Poor sods will think it’s normal. I did a vocational degree aimed at local government enforcement, I did very well in it and picked up a first. Now until I picked up the Telegraph then stumbled across this blog I thought regulating everything as much as possible was the way to go. I wasn’t long finished before I realised I was surrounded in local government by a bunch of moustached Marxists and their mal-educated minions, many of whom fantasised about beheading Her Majesty and implementing a £40k maximum wage in the City.

    A lot of it is just single issue self-interest groups trying to increase their power with spin. Whilst the need to APPEAR ‘business friendly’ was discussed on my course, freedom and libertarianiam never came into the political side of it. Everything the government did, ever new law, every new initiative that affected us was welcomed because we ‘were in the spotlight’.

    I’m all for ‘Mickey-Mouse’ courses, but there are also a lot one-sided Mickey-Mouse science papers, policy documents and, most unfortunately, lecturers.

  13. I am wondering how one draws the line that determines whether vocational training merits the title of “degree” and substantial state-funding, or some other less-exalted and -subsidised form of qualification? If degrees in outdoor adventure and equestrian psychology, why not also degrees in refuse collection and pest management? What will it mean to have a degree, when all advanced training carries the label? (The Edinburgh G&S Society are putting on The Gondoliers next year – time for a recap, Boris?)

    Why should those who have not had the benefit of such training pay for businesses to get cheap training and for the students to get better jobs (the raison d’etre of vocational degrees, presumably)? This is satisfying a demand from employer, employee, and their customers, not of society (i.e. taxpayers) at large. Or is it for the greater good that we need plenty of horse-whisperers?

    I have no problem with vocational training, whether you call the qualifications degrees or diplomas, but I do have a problem with expecting taxpayers to pay for something that the beneficiaries should be paying for.

  14. I’m not going to pay attention to you people until you stop repeating yourselves. Really!

    Also: Boris is as full of crap as usual, if, in this case, reverse crap from the crap he had previously been full of. Of which he had previously been full. Whatever. It’s not my country; what do I care if you fark it up?

  15. I sometimes look at the list of degree options available to our Young People nowadays and think – if only that had been available to us in the 1970’s – something like Petrology , Mediaeval History and French – would have suited me ( then ) rather well .

    As it is , I had to rub along on something called Economics and er

    – I have forgotten the rest .

  16. A degree in hairdressing is worthwhile . A month of snipping and then 35 months of choosing a stupid name
    A Cut Above, Fringe Benefits ,Barber Papa , Barber E Coast ,Hair Today ..,Hair Flick, Parting Company….oh I could go on belive me …

  17. Universities first taught ‘Mickey Mouse vocational subjects’, theology for the priesthood and medicine, along with those total irrelevancies beloved by the romantic elite, Latin & Greek. The most popular subject by far is still that comic book entertainment, English Lit.

  18. Comic book entertainment! (And, yes, I am rising to the bait here.) English Literature! And can I ask what is England’s best export? Surely it must be Shakespeare and the English language. I’ve lost count of how many languages Shakespeare’s been translated into, but it’s probably well over 200. And as for the English language…well, I don’t think I need to spell it out. There’s even a startling Japanese version of Macbeth called “Throne of Blood” with some quite stupendous treatment of the supernatural (although I don’t know how I would rate the rest of it).

    But I think I’m on the defence needlessly. In fact, my biggest gripe would be that those who take England’s best export abroad, TEFL teachers, get paid so little for it. What a nasty, exploitative little industry that is – and that’s because of elitism, isn’t it? And yet, the skills and imaginative techniques developed by that profession are being used all the time now in secondary skills to teach modern languages over here.

  19. Hello Boris! Just hi-jacked a PC to remind you that I’m with you on the the mayoral campaign and left-wing smear campaign? Pah!

    Mickey mouse degrees? Well when you see some students hardly needing to attend and those on other courses, even the brightest, needing to work their er pants off then… I can understand the attitude. And the people not doing a degree, such as electricians, earn about 3 x as much!

  20. Torygraph readers don’t drink wife beater Boz, I thought you’d know that.

    I do – had a pint the other night when I went to see the Rolling Stones, as it’s the only thing they sell in the Millennium Tent.

  21. Public Health

    At the risk of sounding like the saloon-bar Stella man (ironically I’m on the supermarket own brand of imported continental premium lager) haven’t we got enough of these meddlers already? Why should we pay to indoctrinate more of them into the ever-increasingly authoritarian public sector we’re developing under New Labour?

    You’re quite right – those pesky public health people, going round making the sewers work and legionella isn’t breeding in the aircon! Less of that sort of thing!

  22. I don’t disagree with you Crystal, the point I was making was that the analytical techniques for film criticism are, apart from the technical production aspects, identical to those used by critics of literature. If ‘media’ is ‘Mickey Mouse’, then so logically is the study of literature.

    I was also pointing out that universities have always trained, there’s nothing new about vocationalism. And, given the elite’s illicit love affair with Greek and Latin, have always awarded ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’. The techniques of the classics were transposed to other modern languages, this produced some excellent translations but they couldn’t speak a word.

    I’ve never really been able to understand why all these foreigners want to learn English, if you ask them they say it’s to get a better job, yet there’s vast numbers of unemployed English speakers (sort of) in this country that they could import.

    Absolutely Mr Cummings, we need more pandemics in this country, nothing like a good plague to sort out those whinging left wing smear campaingners.

  23. Dear Boris,
    I have 25 years experience in IT. I have programmed everything from Apple II Europlus computers to Z-plane 3D optimisers (and virtually everything in between). However, I am nearly fifty and my degree is in Mechanical Engineering not Computer Science.

    Net result = employability about equal to some arbitrary scruffy long haired git with a degree in Mickey Mouse.

    In other words, you’d be better served by having a tilt at the human resources industry who, apparently, have no word for ‘experience’ in their arcane language. I even find the term ‘human resources’ mildly insulting; I consider myself a person unlike, for example, coal which is a resource.

    As an example of the problem I cite the last pillock I addressed in the aforementioned HR ‘industry’ who was more interested in my 30-odd year old ‘O’-level results than in which languages and operating systems I’ve used.

    So get this rubbish about degrees out of your head. They have no purpose except to take the pressure off HR departments in employee selection.

  24. I see that Littlejohn (today’s Mail) believes the London Mayor election may be over already.

    At this rate, Boris might not have to defeat Livingstone at the polls. The men in white coats might beat him to it.

    He is referring, of course, to the nauseating sight of Ken’s blub-fest during his apology for the slave trade, a system which Britain abolished so long ago that he probably doesn’t know which of his relatives were around at the time.

    Ken was soothed by the comforting arm of Jesse Jackson, the black American rights activist. It is unfortunate that the same Jesse Jackson is on record as once saying he was “sick and tired of hearing about the Holocaust”, an equally disgusting and much more recent event.

    Back to Mickey Mouse. Has anyone seen evidence yet of Ken’s Krew trying to quote Boris out of context from his piece above? I have glorious visions of them beating each other up over whether to risk taking extracts as evidence of him as a student-hater, or whether to continue their frantic search for traces of racism in his use of words like “because” and “the”.

    Or maybe they’re all too busy dabbing the mayoral Kleenex.

  25. < “Ken was soothed by the comforting arm of Jesse Jackson, the black American rights activist.” (PaulD)<

    I resent the way in which the American civil rights movement seems to be finding a foothold in our great nation.

    We are not, and never have been an apartheid nation. We do not and never have had a two-tier system of civil rights. No police station in the UK has ever had a seperate door marked ‘Coloured’.

    It is our system of representative democracy, equality before the law and and an independent judiciary that the nations of the world have looked up to and still try to emulate.

    Many of the rights we have in Britian, the right to vote being to most obvious, are rights the British people have fought for, be it through blood or in the political arena. Many of the ‘rights’ we are now forced to observe have come about through poor judgement by legislators, both in the EU and the UK.

    The ‘rights’ of today are not ‘rights’ that have been won, they have been forced upon us from above. ‘Human rights’ increasingly pervert natural justice in the minds of the silent majority and become moreso the subject of ridicule and resentment with every unpopular decision in their favour.

    Whilst The Reverand Jesse Jackson is to be applauded and respected for his courageous work fighting racist Amercian attitudes, Livingstone’s attempts to make political capital out of unimaginable human suffering, and the expense of our national pride and culture, are grotesque to the extreme.

  26. Dear Boris,

    You are correct, we do need to, and I always do, encourage young people to get a degree, in whatever subject they can do best. However, there are in fact, certain degrees that have an actual negative impact on lifetime earnings. My wife has a studio art degree, and that is completely useless in terms of bringing home the weekly paycheck. I read the study in “The Economist”, and it is has been confirmed each year at income tax time. An art degree is worse than no degree at all.

  27. Nearly all of my working knowledge of the British Educational System has been gleaned from numerous viewings of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. This would seem to immediately disqualify me from offering anything constructive.

    That being said, I understand that there are those who pursue higher education and simply learn how to learn, and those who learn how to think. Many should become Astronauts because they are taking up space. Like most people I have met professional students with more degrees than a thermometer and not a lick of common sense. Oh well it cannot hurt to be exposed to ideas and different points of view especially in this day and age of resurging intolerance.

    Last night I watched America at a Crossroads and I thoroughly enjoyed your explanation of why Brits have a secret pride of ownership regarding America. As a Canadian I am forced to endure a cultural tug of war between the Elephant to the South and the Motherland. These days the relationship between our ‘psychological’ Parents seems far more complex than Shaw’s remark about being separated by a common language.

    In lieu of forging a unique National Identity, our main response seems to be limited to sending Comedians to Hollywood, providing les Quebecois with a platform to voice the indignation of France here in the Colonies, renewing our subscription to Majesty, and keeping Elizabeth’s name on all of our Government Property Leasing Agreements.

  28. By the way guys, I don’t know if you’re having the same problem I have, where you click on ‘Post’ and no new page loads, but if so then you can simply reload Boris’ webpage in a new window and check if your comment is there: in my experience it almost always is. This is much simpler and more pleasant for readers than posting again and again.
    [Ed: thanks for this tip Jack – and thank you for bearing with us over this hitch that we are trying to overcome]

  29. Arrived by email, the first comment mine as I sent it on.

    OK for some it seems, but I can’t see the Tories making it any better, they’re already pandering to the mega-rich!

    Joe Bloggs

    British tax bureaucrats spend millions of public money travelling the world in luxury looking for new ways to raise taxes

    The perks of being a council tax snooper … five-star hotels and trips to Disneyland

    Council tax inspectors have travelled 200,000 miles to 12 countries as they explore ways to raise bills at home.

    [If bureaucrats need to increase taxes for ordinary working-class people, it is partly or wholly caused by the greed and gross extravagance of the very same middle-class pen-pushers. The system is corrupt.]

    Officially, they were on fact-finding missions looking at methods of recalculating bills, such as “spy-in-the-sky” surveillance technology and Big Brother-style computer databases.

    But staff from the Valuation Office Agency have been accused of squandering millions on their junkets, which included stays in five-star hotels, banquets and a visit to a Disneyland theme park.

    One bureaucrat even mocked taxpayers at a dinner.

    The Agency, which is responsible for council tax shake-ups, made 412 flights to countries including the U.S, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand between March 2006 and April this year. Using a complicated government formula, the Conservatives worked out that the Agency’s staff travelled nearly 200,000 miles.

    The Agency spent £4.9million on travel and subsistence in 2006-07.

    Last August, staff attended the International Property Tax Institute’s international conference at a five-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

    The Institute’s website said: “The eight-course Chinese gala dinner was a highlight with speaker Paul Sanderson, from the VOA, presenting many humorous but true anecdotes on taxpayer complaints.”

    Staff also attended a summit at Disneyland in Hong Kong as part of the plan to re- evaluate bills for every home in England.

    David Tretton, head of assessing business rates at the Agency, is even pictured in the staff magazine on a water slide.

    Meanwhile, bureaucrats from the Department of Communities and Local Government, responsible for council tax, clocked up 650,000 air miles on 519 trips to five continents.

    Eric Pickles, Tory local government spokesman, said: “The public will find it hard to understand why those overseeing England’s parish councils and town halls need to travel to America, Asia and Africa.

    “Gas-guzzling tax snoopers are flying around the world to swot up on using Big Brother computer databases and spies in the sky to hike up local taxes. As soon as a general election is over, I fear a council tax revaluation will openly commence to hike up bills using these tax tips picked up from abroad.”

    The Valuation Office Agency is responsible for revaluing a property when it changes hands, which often means it moves to a higher council tax band.

    In March, the Lyons Review of local government funding called for two extra council tax bands.

    Labour insisted this would not happen in England until after the next General Election – apparently fearing a backlash from middle-class voters.

    When a revaluation was carried out in Wales three years ago, average bills rose 9 per cent despite Government promises that it would be “neutral”.

    Critics are convinced England will see similar increases as millions of homes are pushed into higher brackets.

    The Mail has already revealed how council tax snoopers have taken more than 1.3million pictures of homes to calculate if their owners should pay higher bills.

    And estate agents are being paid £10million of taxpayers’ money by the Agency in return for details on homes.

    The Agency said: “The VOA always seeks to find the most costeffectiveway of travelling; sometimes-this can be by air, whether for international, or more commonly travel within the UK.

    “Staff occasionally travel abroad. This is usually by invitation as our expertise is world respected.

    “In most cases this is at no, or minimal cost, to the taxpayer.”

    The Communities and Local Government Department said: “When necessary, the department undertakes some business trips linked to developing policy.

    “Value for money is always sought and costs are kept to a minimum. No revaluation of council tax is currently taking place in England.”

    SOURCE

    Daily Mail, “The perks of being a council tax snooper … five-star hotels and trips to Disneyland”, 28 August 2007.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=478167&in_page

    ——————————————————————————–

    Britain’s biggest corporations avoid paying tax

    A third of UK’s 700 biggest businesses pay no corporation tax

    Nearly a third of the UK’s 700 biggest businesses paid no corporation tax in the 2005-2006 financial year, an official study has revealed. [Furthermore, even companies that do pay corporation tax are able to avoid it to some extent.]

    A further 30 per cent paid less than £10 million each in tax.

    And of the tax paid by these businesses, two-thirds came from just three industries – banking, insurance and oil and gas – while the alcohol, tobacco, car and real estate sectors paid only a few hundred million pounds.

    Altogether, these large companies paid £24.4 billion in tax in 2005-2006 – just more than half of all the corporation tax, according to a National Audit Office analysis of 700 companies handled by the large business service of Revenue & Customs.

    Just 50 of the companies paid 67 per cent of the tax, while about 220 paid none at all.

    Another 210 each paid less than £10 million, according to figures that left financial experts taken aback.

    Mr Michael Devereux of the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation said: “It is certainly surprising.”

    The figures have also sparked questions about the strategies used by large public and private companies to reduce their tax bills.

    But as corporation tax is only paid on company profits, it is thought that poor performances and low profitability may have been responsible for the low amounts of tax paid.

    Some companies have also paid heavily into pension funds – cutting their profit margin – or have had to deal with high financing costs or the availability of tax losses from previous years.

    The figures have also sparked concern over whether the Treasury relies too heavily on a minority of industries for its money and the impact this has upon small businesses.

    Mr Bill Dodwell, of Deloitte, the professional service firm, said: “That 700 of the largest companies and groups are only paying 54 per cent of corporation tax shows the giant contribution of small companies.” One large company which has recently avoided paying corporation tax is J Sainsbury, the supermarket group.

    It put £110 million into its pension fund in 2005 – 2006, meaning that instead of paying corporation tax it received a credit of £3 million.

    And in 2006 – 2007, it paid £240 million into its pension fund, resulting in a £9 million tax credit.

    SOURCE

    Daily Mail, “A third of UK’s 700 biggest businesses pay no corporation tax”, 28 August 2007.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=478146&in_page_id=1770

    PS: Didn’t you realise that Ken is black on the inside?

  30. Nearly all of my working knowledge of the British Educational System has been gleaned from numerous viewings of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. This would seem to immediately disqualify me from offering anything constructive.

    That being said, I understand that there are those who pursue higher education and simply learn how to learn, and those who learn how to think. Many should become Astronauts because they are taking up space. Like most people I have met professional students with more degrees than a thermometer and not a lick of common sense. Oh well it cannot hurt to be exposed to ideas and different points of view especially in this day and age of resurging intolerance.

    Last night I watched America at a Crossroads and I thoroughly enjoyed your explanation of why Brits have a secret pride of ownership regarding America. As a Canadian I am forced to endure a cultural tug of war between the Elephant to the South and the Motherland. These days the relationship between our ‘psychological’ Parents seems far more complex than Shaw’s remark about being separated by a common language.

    In lieu of forging a unique National Identity, our main response seems to be limited to sending Comedians to Hollywood, providing les Quebecois with a platform to voice the indignation of France here in the Colonies, and by renewing our subscription to Majesty and keeping Elizabeth’s name on all of our Government Leasing Agreements.

  31. Not a bad analysis, but it would benefit from a ‘then and now’ comparison with the days when there were Universities and Polytechnics.

    The good old poly taught a range of courses, heavily vocational, to a range of standards; some were diplomas, some were degrees. Now that they are all universities, it seems that all their qualifications ‘must’ be degrees, regardless of content. Does this sound like your point? Some of the Mickey Mouse degrees are actually pretty good diplomas and vocational certificates.

    Note that there is no longer a CNAA imposing external standards on higher-education diplomas and degrees: now that we’re all proper universities, we can be trusted to set our own standards. You might want to look into that: it’s a problem that used to have a solution.

    The old ‘pollies’ worked very closely with local employers and their diplomas and degrees were well-respected. Some still do, and still are; others, less so. It may well be that this was as effective in maintaining standards as the external regulator; but then, who needs telling that those who are good enough to need no regulation still need the regulator to maintain the standards and reputation of the industry?

    And yes, it is an industry now. Like it or not, higher education is a mass-production operation, making graduates of half the school-leaving population, and the days of lovingly hand-crafted individually-tutored MA’s in their gowns and hoods are long, long gone. Pass on my apologies to the dons amid the dreaming spires: they are now a niche product in a mass market, and they would do well to rouse themselves from their sherry and ‘protect the brand’, both by raising standards in general and publicising some impartial standard that allows us all to see how good – or bad – they really are.

    As a final note, you are correct in saying that much of the criticism is ill-informed. My favourite example being the sneers over DeMontfort University’s MSc in ‘computer games’ – I believe that the Telegraph has a go at it every now and again – without asking anyone in the computer-gaming industry… A ten-billion-dollar export earner that needs graduates and postgraduates trained in the technical arcana of video rendering and virtual ‘physics engines’ and the strange art of writing plots and stories that the players change by the choices they make; needless to say, DeMont’s computer-gamers can name their price on graduation.

  32. I resent the way in which the American civil rights movement seems to be finding a foothold in our great nation. We are not, and never have been an apartheid nation. We do not and never have had a two-tier system of civil rights. No police station in the UK has ever had a seperate door marked ‘Coloured’. (StevenL)

    So true, Steven. And for similar reasons I always felt it was a fool’s errand to compare bars in New York with English pubs when it came to the smoking ban.

    New York was held up as an example of how trade can increase following a ban (never mind that the figures are hotly disputed). But drinking holes in New York are quite different from the traditional English pub. Ban smokers from a sterile, themed, stainless-steel bar and all you lose is smokers. Over-regulate the English pub with this foolhardy ban and you destroy its very character.

    The pub was a kaleidoscope of sights and aromas – the log fire roaring in winter, the smell of old beer, baccy and furniture polish, the horse brasses and corny hunting scenes… Am I being over-sentimental? I don’t think so. Social commentators going back to Chaucer have written about the atmosphere of the inn. For tourists, it was Britain personified.

    Most importantly, the pub was a place where class and age barriers tumbled, where robust conversation, hearty laughter and serious putting-the-world-to-rights arguments rang over a pint and a ciggie. It was a place where war veterans could meet for a stout and a pipe while their equally elderly wives could gossip over a ginger wine. Where teens and twenties could learn from the measured manners of those at the next table or bar-stool.

    And what harm did it do? (Please, no more secondhand smoke debates. It’s all been said, it’s mostly rubbish, and there were always alternatives to a total ban which would have satisfied most people).

    Now, when I go into a pub, I see a morgue. The smoking ban has driven away this colourful clientele, the essence of British life. The old-timers have gone to join the ranks of Labour’s “socially excluded”. The younger ones are down the park getting wrecked on White Lightning. The wags are either outside where the action is, freezing their nuts off, or simply don’t come any more.

    What remains indoors is a clique of puritans in the NuLab image whose idea of fun is trying to detect any smoke from those outside who are actually enjoying themselves. Come winter, even that will stop. Your companion at the bar will be a six-year-old slurping health juices.

    The ban has done more than eliminate smokers from pubs – it has ripped the heart out of England. At the stroke of midnight on July 1, our strongest agent of social cohesion was destroyed, along with tradition going back hundreds of years. Another triumph for New Labour.

    Interestingly, a report in today’s Times shows Merseyside police enthusing that they now have 200 officers fighting armed gangs, drug dealers and criminals in the city.

    On July 1, Liverpool council hired exactly that number of smoking police.

    Yes, Britain has gone mad. Totally and utterly bonkers.

  33. My entire working knowledge of the British Educational System has been gleaned from numerous viewings of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. This would seem to immediately disqualify me from offering anything constructive but certain universal truths exist.

    There are those who pursue higher education and simply learn how to memorise random bits of trivia, data, or information until they pass an examination and pay the erstwhile nerds in full for the cheat sheets.

    A few lucky bastards actually learn how to think but far too many students should be sponsored by NASA and become Astronauts because they are taking up space.

    Like most people I have met professional students with more degrees than a thermometer who do not have a lick of common sense but luckily most of them are steered out of our way and vanish into careers in Government.

    I firmly believe that it cannot hurt even the daftest twit to be exposed to radical Marxist-Feminist doctrines on their way to becoming a Veterinarian or Phys Ed Teacher.

    Analyzing different points of view will help most graduating/unemployable Engineers, Lawyers, Accountants and Economists better understand the needs of their illiterate, frustrated, customers at WalMart. Manipulating them and invoking their primal, insatiable, appetite to overspend should be a Pavlovian ‘walk-in-the-park.

    Last night I watched America at a Crossroads and I thoroughly enjoyed your explanation of why Brits have a secret pride of ownership regarding America. As a Canadian I am forced to endure a cultural tug of war between the Elephant to the South and the Motherland. These days the relationship between our ‘psychological’ Parents seems far more complex than Shaw’s remark about being separated by a common language.

    In lieu of forging a unique National Identity through a National Education Program Canada’s main response to offsetting American assimilation by osmosis seems to be limited to sending Comedians to Hollywood, and providing les Quebecois with a local platform from which to voice the indignation and universal disdain of the Anglische that France imported to the New World some 400 years ago.

    Yes here in the Colonies we cope as best we can by renewing our subscription to Majesty magazine and by watching reruns of American Idol and Coronation Street instead of studying for exams.

  34. Steven L…..We are not,and never have been an Apartheid nation. we do not and never have had a two tier system of civil rights, No police station in the UK has ever had a separate door marked “Coloured”.

    No, but there are NuLab government department doors marked “No White English”, the Anglian Region’s Agency flood managment programme door for starters, remember Abigail Howarth, she is probably not the only victim.

    Apartheid is alive and well in England, and the indigenous Anglo-Saxons are the fall guys and gals.

  35. “The nauseating sight of Ken’s blub-fest” (PaulD)

    Facile emotionalism – yes, I think Ken Livingstone is good at that. But I wonder if the Ken Livingstone Amateur Dramatics Club will tire even left-wingers who are perhaps getting a mite cynical about his ability to play the race-card at the drop of a hat.

    The problem with the Left is that it’s a choice either between the New Labour Thatcherites or the Ken Livingstone Trotskyist contingent, who are actually quite ready to launch a smear-campaign even when a lot less is at stake than the Mayorship. A democratic exchange of views or opinions with them? Forget it.

    “OK for some it seems, but I can’t see the Tories making it any better, they’re already pandering to the mega-rich!” (Joe Bloggs)

    I agree – but so do New Labour. They seem to be even more guilty of it than the Tories at the moment because they’re the ones in power. Is there any party out there that actually represents the ordinary majority?

    “We are not, and never have been an apartheid nation” (Stephen L)

    Well… England played a big part in supporting apartheid in South Africa. And that was so, so wrong. But I agree with what you say about Ken Livingstone’s political manipulations.

  36. < “Well… England played a big part in supporting apartheid in South Africa. And that was so, so wrong. But I agree with what you say about Ken Livingstone’s political manipulations.” (crystal cobweb)<

    Italy supported Hitler. Should we hold it against them today? The fact is we have always treated all men who stand on our shores as equal before the law.

    Livingstone still supports the Chavez regime without any criticism of his totalitarian stance (i.e. unions saying to workers support Chavez of leave) towards freedom of conscience.

  37. Sounds as if a degree certificate from The University of Life (Khao San Road, Bangkok) could be more significant than one from a British university in some “Mickey Mouse” discipline. After all, you have to get yourself into Asia, decide the details you want on the certificate and the institute of higher learning you favoured with your mythical presence. Try to avoid changing your date of birth if at all possible. And obviously make sure you don’t get the graduation day on a Sunday or public holiday. Quite a lot of planning. And face it, once you made the “City of Angels (fallen angels some might quip), there are so many places in the region you’ll want to check out before heading back to banal UK: Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma in BBC speak), Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Tibet, Mongolia (perhaps not)… with the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia only a hop, skip and a jump on budget priced airlines. And then at last, the prize: Japan. Cue “Sakura” music on koto. Sounds like a real education. Oriental Fine Arts, perhaps? Or better yet, “Business Studies: Seek Your Fortune in the Colonies”. So if you ever find yourselves in downtown ….

  38. “The fact is we have always treated all men who stand on our shores as equal before the law.” (Stephen L)

    I take your point and nicely put. (Pity I wasn’t able to print the above in italics, though.)

  39. Yes, yes we do need more people that can fix sceptic tank, do the pipes, wire up houses and what not, but no they should not be taken from the people who wish to better themsevles with education, but perhaps a use could be given to those members of “upperclass” who seem to have no skills, trades or indeed use at all.

  40. Hi, as a proud owner of one of the apparently worthless degrees from one of thos ex technical colleges I was outraged by this article! I achieved a First Class Honours Mathematics degree and am currently working in an investment bank in the city, in fact I’ve worked for FTSE 100 companies since I left uni 7 years ago. I can guarantee you that I have excelled in the workplace and exceeded many of my peers from other ‘red brick’, Boris approved universities. I was a supporter of Boris but I think this shows him for what he is. As a higher rate tax payer and resident in London I will not be voting for him. Perhaps we can find a Mayor for London who cares about people and not just in making outlandish statements to create some column inches!

  41. I think there is a flaw in this article about “Mickey Mouse” degrees. I agree that it’s a case of “supply and demand”, with the market largely defining what skills are needed – the demand side – and the universities responding by providing appropriate courses – the supply side. The problem is that our left-wing universities couldn’t give two hoots about the market. Course content has more to do with their prevailing ideology than it has to do with any market considerations. If the universities themselves were driven by the same market considerations when developing courses, the system might just work.

  42. Lee Jakeman

    Education has always been a problem for economists because it is hard to define the market. Is it the future employer of graduates, the students or the parents of students?

    British universities are trying to appeal to prospective students as their market, but those students may not be equipped to choose between courses; they have been told (wrongly) that they should choose less rigorous A level subjects in order to get better grades and they now believe the same applies to their choice of degree subject. I am told there are many students who are leaving university with “good” degrees in some subjects who are finding themselves earning no more than their former classmates who went into the workplace after A levels, except the graduates have their student debt to worry about (which might make them more motivated I suppose).

    I will declare an interest as my daughter is taking my advice to take a scientific degree. I believe she will find the course and subsequent career intellectually rewarding, but if she wants financial rewards and social respect she will need to leave the UK for a developed country.

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