The Blog

David Cameron on Letterman: Which Test did he Fail?

Be honest. Who googled what Magna Carta means in English the day after David Cameron appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman?

Be honest. Who googled what Magna Carta means in English the day after David Cameron appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman?

"He should have known" said many.

If he was not able to answer the questions about the size of the population and the difference among the nations of the United Kingdom, I'd share their concerns. I can forgive him though for not knowing who wrote the words of Rule Britannia despite the fact he received a first class honours degree in PPE from Oxford.

"The PM failed his history test" was the title of many articles around the globe. To his defence, if he knew, he would have revised the syllabus and would probably have done better (and then forget most of it a few days later). Isn't how the education system works?

Although most of these questions are from the high school curriculum, this incidence also gives us the opportunity to discuss what higher education is for.

A) Is it to help people become more knowledgeable, expand their horizons, and develop well-rounded personalities?


B) Is it to equip them with the necessary skills to make them employable in the field of their choice?

I am fully aware that this question divides people. Each of you will make your own decision about what universities are for. Let's be clear though: at £9k tuition fees per year and 20% graduate unemployment, it's not a philosophical question anymore and should not be treated as one.

Many things changed during the past 20 years; many more will change over the next twenty years as we live in a rapidly evolving society. Technological advancements and globalization are the two major forces behind these changes.

Different set of skills are needed. A few years ago, information was king. Now, information is widely available. However, how you interpret it will make all the difference. Also, there is a move from generalists to experts. Employers are already looking for depth rather than breath.

We cannot prepare for the future based on what worked well in the past.

What we can do though is help people understand the trade-offs of their choices, empower them to make their own decisions and accept their implications.

As for Mr Cameron who might be worried whether he would have passed his British Citizenship test, he will be pleased to know that there are no British history questions in it. Even if there were any, the pass mark is 75%. However, he might have to worry a bit more on how to create more jobs in the near future. This is the test he shouldn't fail.

The bottom line: With a £30K (or more) student debt, applicants should do more research to find out what value the university will offer themthan just look at their glossy leaflets.