Education, Creativity and “The highest purposes in life”

“If we’re going to die when we graduate, isn’t it what we do before that counts?”

Spoken by a character in “An Education” (2009) – shown on BBC4 last night.

Last week we wrote about the achievements of Coventry University and about the praise it’s received for listening to its students and for meeting their needs beyond the academic and the formal curriculum.

Coventry University

The university has three objectives: “teaching students well, making sure that students are listened to, and making sure they get good jobs at the end of their course,” says Ian Dunn, deputy vice-chancellor for student experience at Coventry.

Our 3D Eye comment was

What’s startling here is the subtext that other universities don’t pay attention to students’ needs, don’t listen to the voices and opinions of their students, don’t offer them high quality careers guidance . . .

In the Guardian yesterday George Monbiot published a column about the care and guidance that our universities offer, or rather don’t offer, their students.

How a corporate cult captures and destroys our best graduates

To seek enlightenment, intellectual or spiritual; to do good; to love and be loved; to create and to teach: these are the highest purposes of humankind. If there is meaning in life, it lies here.

Those who graduate from the leading universities have more opportunity than most to find such purpose. So why do so many end up in pointless and destructive jobs? Finance, management consultancy, advertising, public relations, lobbying: these and other useless occupations consume thousands of the brightest students. To take such jobs at graduation, as many will in the next few weeks, is to amputate life close to its base.

I watched it happen to my peers. People who had spent the preceding years laying out exultant visions of a better world, of the grand creative projects they planned, of adventure and discovery, were suddenly sucked into the mouths of corporations dangling money like angler fish.

Recruitment begins with lovebombing of the kind that cults use . . . . They persuade undergraduates that even if they don’t see themselves as consultants or bankers (few do), these jobs are stepping stones to the careers they really want. They make the initial application easy, and respond immediately and enthusiastically to signs of interest. They offer security and recognition when people are most uncertain and fearful about their future. And there’s the flash of the king’s shilling: the paid internships, the golden hellos, the promise of stupendous salaries within a couple of years. Entrapment is a refined science.

We have but one life. However much money we make, we cannot buy it back. As far as self-direction, autonomy and social utility are concerned, many of those who enter these industries and never re-emerge might as well have locked themselves in a cell at graduation. They lost it all with one false step, taken at a unique moment of freedom.

George Monbiot concludes his column with the following:

The hero of this story is Gordon Chesterman, head of the careers service at Cambridge. He told me his service tries to counter the influence of the richest employers.

It sends out regular emails telling students “if you don’t want to become a banker, you’re not a failure”, and runs an event called “But I don’t want to work in the City”. It imposes a fee on rich recruiters and uses the money to pay the train fares of nonprofits. He expressed anger about being forced by the government to provide data on graduate starting salaries.

“I think it’s a very blunt and inappropriate means [of comparison], that rings alarm bells in my mind.”

Elsewhere, at this vulnerable, mutable, pivotal moment, undergraduates must rely on their own wavering resolve to resist peer pressure, the herd instinct, the allure of money, flattery, prestige and security.

Students, rebel against these soul-suckers! Follow your dreams, however hard it may be, however uncertain success might seem.

In the final act of ‘An Education’ the would-be Oxford undergraduate, played by Carey Mulligan, says

“It’s not enough to educate us any more! You’ve got to tell us why you’re doing it!”

We’re looking forward to our visit to Coventry University later this month, and to finding out more about its provisions for the wellbeing of its students. We might recommend to George Monbiot that he looks beyond the eight universities he’s already contacted for examples of good practice.

We’d be interested to hear from others on this subject.

Cov Uni

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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