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Behind the headlines

The last thing we need is more graduates

Tony Blair, middle, in his Oxford days

I understand why Tony Blair loves universities, says Esther Walker in the I newspaper. “After all, he went to St John’s College, Oxford, grew his hair, played in a band and met his wife.” But his delusion that they’re a “magical cure-all for societal ills” is ridiculous. He’s now saying 70% of school leavers should get a degree, up from the 50% target he set as prime minister. (The current figure is 53%.) But I’m doubtful that many of Britain’s 130 universities are much like St John’s. “Most years, even Oxford and Cambridge produce an awful lot of bookshop assistants and zero-hours contract TV interns.”

Only a degree in economics from Cambridge has been proven to guarantee a higher starting salary. On average, male arts graduates have a 14% smaller starting salary than their non-graduate peers. Which is fine if you’re rich, well-connected, and “just at uni to mess about and smoke drugs before doing a law conversion course”. But luring people to take on debt they can ill-afford is no more than a “nasty trick”. The great irony is that Blair’s son, Euan, is helping school leavers “bypass this rotten system” with his company Multiverse, which matches people with “white-collar apprenticeship schemes”. I know whose side I’m on in this “father-son grudge match”.