The World Turned Upside Down

Should mature students be allowed to go to college? – The Irish Times – Fri, Jan 15, 2010

And so on and on, like a broken record. It’s very unattractive but there you are. Leaving Certificate mothers cannot help parroting phrases that have been handed down from previous generations, no more than they can help sticking chemistry tables and quotes from Shakespeare on to the fridge, or regaling the candidate with tales of excellence – the 13-year-old admitted to Cambridge and so on.

Our guard may have been down for a while. Statistically speaking the class of 2010 had been in line for a reasonably easy run. After more than a decade of falling points and expanding career options, all signs were that getting into a reasonably fulfilling college course would be just a matter of filling in the forms. But the great recession has put paid to that. Certain courses are no longer attractive at all, such as those leading towards a career in property or construction. The inevitable swing towards the sciences or any course that might feed into Brian Cowen’s beloved “smart economy” will increase competition for places. This year more people will sit the Leaving Cert than ever before. And now there’s talk of a wave of the newly unemployed going back to college.

More than 12,000 mature students are apparently seeking college places this year, while there has also been a surge in the numbers set to sit the Leaving Certificate, after several years of decline. You can’t blame them. Who wouldn’t want to quit the job search and spend a few years learning something new and ogling young ones.

But 12,000 is an awful lot of them. Should they all be allowed go back to college? Emphatically no, says one friend who not so long ago was considering doing a degree course herself but has now shelved all plans until her eldest is safely into third level.

“Who needs to see the grey workforce spilling over into uni,” she says. “They would only be sucking the life blood out of the university.” That is putting it a bit strongly. She would like to see all 12,000 herded off into a separate college, preferably in the North.

Years back, there used to be a column appearing on Fridays in the Guardian by a writer called Bel Littlejohn, who would gush forth with all manner of blithe middle-class slobberings. An American friend of mine, (one who really exists, as opposed to an imaginary one created as a rhetorical device for avoiding identifying myself with opinions I myself might be embarrassed to admit to but hold nonetheless) perturbed on having acquainted himself with one of her articles, poured forth his outrage and disgust to me at the jejune, empty-headed arrogance and sense of privilege on display. I felt bad when I had to tell him that it was the work of satirist Craig Brown.

These Friday columns are the closest thing Ireland has to a Bel Littlejohn, though I understand that the writer in this instance is not fictitious. This can only mean that what appears as fictitious satire in other places is in fact the real world here, and vice versa. So the tens of thousands of workers thrust into unemployment and anxiously trying to learn new ways of avoiding getting thrown on the scrapheap are in fact slapstick figures driven by indolence and lascivious urges whilst the clownish, braying flibbertigibbets are serious people who decide who and what counts.

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3 Responses to “The World Turned Upside Down”


  1. 1 Donagh January 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Who wouldn’t want to quit the job search and spend a few years learning something new and ogling young ones

    fnar, fnar. Can’t wait to see Carey’s next article about this little jest. Or maybe she’ll just resolve the outrage by bashing her mutton her forehead luxurious new mutton chops against Mulcahy’s shiny new 10-reg adamantium forehead in the Irish Times canteen.

    Typo edited by Hugh Green to preserve imagined intended meaning of commenter.

  2. 3 Donagh January 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Adamantium? I would never have thought of suggesting that Mulcahy’s forehead was made of such stuff, although I can see how she would need it as Property Editor of the Irish Times. After all, you’re banging your head against a brick wall telling people that property prices have bottomed out and that next year they should start going up again.


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