Whilst watching Question Time on Thursday evening the overwhelming number of the questions were about the Budget which had been announced the day before. One of the more hotly contested areas of debate was over the scrapping of Maintenance Grants to be replaced by repayable loans
During this conversation everybody on the panel except for the Conservative MP Anna Soubry agreed that it was a wrong decision to cut the grants because it would discourage people from poorer backgrounds from attending university.
The conversation then swiftly turned to the related topic of university reform and the panel became more divided as the UKIP MEP Louise Bours and the journalist Rachel Johnson said that too many young people were attending universities to study degrees of no value to society, with such courses often being referred to pejoratively as ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’. I don’t agree with this assessment however right-wing politicians and journalists attempting to tap into the anti-intellectualism of the general public, although annoying, is nothing new.
What peaked my interest was the ‘proof’, which is a term I use loosely, that was repeatedly cited by UKIP’s Louise Bours who had up until this point had been fairly reasonable when talking about her own experiences with Maintenance Grants as a mature student.
The ‘proof’ of people attending universities to study degrees of no societal relevance or worth was undergraduates studying ‘David Beckham Studies’. Instantly my bullshit detector started going off because no university would do a three year university course, as had been implied, in the study of the life and work of David Beckham.
My suspicions were correct as no university does a course in David Beckham studies. What she is referring to was the decision by Staffordshire University in 2000 to run a module on Football Culture, specifically, as described by lecturer Professor Ellis Cashmore in 2000: “examining the rise of football from its folk origins in the 17th century, to the power it’s become and the central place it occupies in British culture, and indeed world culture”.
Professor Cashmore also pointed out that, as a case study: “[Beckham] is a person who doesn’t actually do much, but onto which we can displace all our fantasies… I think he embodies the spirit of the times, he doesn’t actually say or do much- unlike icons of the past, he doesn’t take a political stand or engage with any kind of society issues of the day”.
In summary Professor Cashmore’s 12-week, not 3-year, module, not course, examined how and why football has its current significant role in British society, and offers an analysis and critique of 21st British society with Beckham of an example of a cultural icon that has what many would call arbitrary accomplishments. The course itself was designed to look at contemporary British society from a different perspective, in this case why footballers in modern Britain are seen in such high esteem for having achieved nothing of note other than an elevated level of foot co-ordination.
To conclude, Ms Bours attempts to deride people who attend university by suggesting that many go exclusively to learn about random celebrities were unfortunately successful, however I would suggest that Ms Bours was unaware of anything I just pointed out, particularly as the phrase ‘David Beckham Studies’ was coined by tabloid journalists in the early Noughties, a group of people not renown for their academic appreciation.
Furthermore, tabloid newspapers also complain that, when talking about role models, young people look up to footballers for doing nothing of any importance, as if dismissing the role models of people without cause is a way of changing societies obsession with footballers. Yet, when Professor Cashmore decided to analyse why so many young people look up to footballers as role models by analysing football’s cultural impact, he is derided by the same tabloids and right-wing politicians; evidently these politicians and journalists prefer to moan than to actually do any form of self-reflection.