What’s it to be, prof? Wittgenstein or Love Island?

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A-level grades are in, university places are on offer and PETER MORTIMER finds himself targeted. . .

MY TELEPHONE RINGS. At the other end of the line is a pleasant, if slightly over-keen, female voice.

‘Mr. Mortimer?’

‘That’s me, all right!’

‘I wondered if you’d be interested in applying for one of our degree courses?’

‘Who is this?’

‘I’m with the University Clearance System.’

‘Really? And you’re ringing me? Blimey! Who else are you ringing?’

‘Well, everybody, now you come to mention it.’

‘Don’t you think I’m a little too old to be starting a degree course?’

‘Nonsense!” she chuckles. Now, just a few questions: first, where would you like to go?’

‘Well, I….’

‘And what would you like to study?’

‘Well again, I . . .’

‘Take your pick.’

You know, I’ve always wanted to study the great philosophers’.

‘The what?’

‘You know, Wittgenstein, Hegel, Plato, Machiavelli, Descartes.’

There was a short silence. Finally, the woman at other end recovered sufficiently to continue. ‘What about the Emoji Module? That’s one of our favourite degree courses.’

‘Well,’ I added, ‘If philosophy isn’t readily available then what about art? Or foreign languages? Or music? Or literature? You know, one of those subjects that expands your mind and makes you a more rounded person.’

‘We’ve got a special B.O.G.O.F. deal on at the moment’, the woman continued, hurriedly. ‘Two degrees for the price of one, available with the following courses: Online Selfie Marketing, Love Island Preparation or Botox Management.’

Perhaps a PhD in Love Island Preparation..?

I cleared my throat nervously. ‘Aren’t they a bit. . . well, unelevated?’ I asked.

‘Supply and demand’, said the woman unapologetically. ‘Simple. How about a BA in Instagram Procedure? That’s proving very popular.’

‘I see’ I said. ‘I was rather hoping for something that might make me think.’

She laughed out loud. ‘Well, our tuition fees might make you think, ha, ha!’ before hastily adding, ‘Just a joke!.’

‘Leave it with me,’ I said and hung up. A few moments later the phone rang again.

This time it was rather a persuasive-sounding male.

‘University of Pelaw here’, he said. ‘Ten per cent off all degree courses, a free iPad, a week’s holiday in Fuengirola and a £200 voucher for Burger King, all unconditional but the offer ends in three days.’

‘Hang on,’ I said, ‘What about grades?’

‘Grades?’

‘Yes, A-level grades. Don’t I need some A-level grades before you make me an offer?’

‘Good heavens, no! What an old fashioned idea!’ said the man. He must have felt I was wavering and so added quickly: ‘For convenience, we can now offer degree courses that can be completed in three weeks.’

‘Three weeks?’ I replied. That sounds very short. In what subjects?’

‘Take your pick,’ he said.

Now where had I heard that before? ‘I must confess’ I said ‘It begins to sound like education is becoming another product to be sold by private enterprise on the open market to whoever has the money, rather than an essential public service provided by the State for the common good.’

‘Mmmm,’ said the man.’So what can I put you down for?’

‘Look,’ I said, ‘It’s nice of you to ring me up, I grant you . . .’

‘Grant? Did you mention grants?’ he gasped. Then I heard him shout across the room, ‘There’s some batty geezer here talking about grants! Remember them, anybody?’ Dead silence.

‘I’ll think about it,’ I said.

‘Silly old prat,’ I heard him mouth under his breath before he rang off.

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