Education is an end in itself not a means to an end

Kenneth Baker, a former Education Secretary in the Conservative administration of the late Lady Margaret Thatcher, has given a speech in which he argues that traditional subjects such as history and English will no longer act as an automatic pathway to a well paying job, for example in middle management. Baker contends that the proliferation of technology means there will be less jobs available in the middle management sphere and many young people will, in the future choose vocational education and/or apprenticeships over a traditional degree as this is more likely to be of use in their search for employment.
My degree is in history and politics, while I also have a MA in political theory. Given that I hold academic qualifications of the kind Baker argues will become less “relevant” (my word not his), I was particularly interested in the report of his speech.
My decision to attend university was influenced by several factors, the primary one being a love of learning and a desire to study 2 subjects which fascinated (and continue to fascinate me). A lesser reason for opting for higher education stemmed from me not knowing what I wished to do with my life, (the latter is, I feel sure a factor influencing the choices of a significant number of students). The wish to gain employment was, no doubt present in my mind, it was not, however a major motivator.
To me a university education is, at it’s best about broadening the mind and enhancing the ability of the student to think critically about the world. A truly educated person reads an article in a newspaper and brings his (or her) critical faculties to bare. Is it true? If so how much of it is accurate and how much “opinion” rather than “fact”. Of course there are many people who do not possess a university degree who are extremely bright and capable of separating pure “opinion” from hard “fact”. None the less a university degree does encourage critical thinking and for that very reason is valuable in and of itself.
“Man does not live by bread alone”. We need to raise our eyes from the ground and look to the skies. Vocational education and training are important. We need plumbers, builders and chefs. However man is not a robot and the danger of the lauding of vocational education/training over traditional degrees is that it devalues learning as an end in of itself. Keat’s “Nightingale” and Hardy’s “Darkling Thrush” wont keep the wheels of commerce turning. They will, however instill in us a love of beauty for they speak to the soul which feeds not on bred, (
For the article please visit

(Baker is a lover of poetry and no Benthamite Utilitarian. See, for example None the less his speech will, no doubt be used by the disciples of Jeremy Bentham in furtherance of their mechanistic view of the world).

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