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Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Nurse, can you help me with the Times crossword?"

They were talking on "Any Answers" just now about the plan to ensure that nurses do four-year degree courses. An experienced nurse said "If we're to have the kind of intelligent, caring staff we need, it's important that they have degrees." Hovering in the background of this argument is the widely-held suspicion that this attempt to ratchet up the perceived status of the nursing profession may result in staff who don't want to do the dirty, tiresome side of the job.

Does anybody buy the idea that because somebody has done a degree rather than traditional vocational training then that must make them: a) more intelligent; b) better at the job? I'm sure there are increasing technical demands on nurses but I'm not sure drafting in more university students is going to make that any better. Some of the most stupid people I have ever met went to some of the finest universities. Some of the most capable left school as soon as they could.

Just look at other professions which have been through a parallel process of gentrification. Most of the journalists and editors whose retirement or deaths have been marked recently didn't even get to be in the sixth form, let alone university. Many of the people I was taught by at school had only a basic teaching qualification. Some of them may have had none at all. They ranged, as any bunch of professionals do, from geniuses to those who were barely competent. Education had nothing to do with the distinction. I have friends who are very experienced teachers. Their view is that today's young teachers, who all have degrees, are more polished. This is not the same as saying they are better.

I spent years in a big company interviewing people for jobs and I never once looked at their educational qualifications. The tiniest bit of experience, whether it was professional or a student rag, counted far more than a wearying list of the modules they had passed (for passed read "sat through".) The thing that counted most of all was the glimmer of aptitude that you could detect within two minutes of a personal meeting. Will they be doing that with potential nurses?