Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Who wants to be a millionaire?

The schools secretary, Michael Gove, is quoted in today's Guardian with a comment on tuition fees (arguing that fees are not the barrier to university, it's a fault that lies with schools): "Someone who is working as a postman should not subsidise those who go on to become millionaires."

This is just wrong on so many levels.

Firstly, that also means that a postman should not enable students to train as teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, and any number of necessary careers without which our society would not function. This leads straight on to the second point: a university degree does not make you a millionaire. On the contrary, I would guess that most millionaires do not have a degree, because they spent their time building a successful career in business rather than reading Shakespearian sonnets and analysing the intricacies of subject-verb agreement in different polynesian languages.

I do not have time to investigate the full Sunday Times Rich list (which is hidden behind a paywall in any case), and in some cases it would not help, as some people are already millionaires before they went to university (and soon will have to be...), but here is an unscientific overview of some prominent millionaires and what I could find out about them on Wikipedia:

Richard Branson, had a "poor academic record"; he holds an honorary degree from Loughborough. His first successful business venture started when he was just 16, so he did of course have better things to do than go to uni. Still, he's #212 in Forbes' list of rich people in the world.

Alan Sugar left school at 16. No academic career.

James Dyson: I assumed he started out as an engineer, but in fact he studied interior design at the Royal College of Art before moving into engineering. No mercy for people following in his footsteps with humanities teaching slashed.

Peter Jones, of Dragon's Den fame, ended his academic career after A-levels to become a businessman.

Theo Paphitis, "began his entrepreneurial activities by running his school tuckshop, at the age of 15." Again, no mention of an academic career.

Duncan Bannatyne - was in the navy for a while, but no sign of a university degree.

Rachel Elnaugh wanted to study art history, but was apparently rejected at 5 universities. That didn't stop her from becoming an entrepreneur. Not sure, though, if she still is a millionaire.

Simon Woodroffe went on the road with Rod Stewart etc after acquiring two O-levels.

Doug Richard is actually one of the 'Dragons' who has a degree, a BA in Psychology from University of California at Berkeley and a Juris Doctor at the school of Law, University of California at Los Angeles. (source). But Gove will be pleased to see it was not funded by UK taxpayers.

James Caan left school at the age of 16. His involvement with academia (Harvard Business School) only started after he made his fortune.

Deborah Meaden is the only other academic dragon: she studied business at Brighton Technical College, which is a further education college.

This of course is not a proper sample, but one gets the impression that most of those successful entrepreneurs have been too busy in their early adolescence to pursue degrees.

And finally, as I do not want to turn this into a long rant, with a large number of UK students going into higher education (though I believe Labour's target of 50% university attendance has not been achieved), our country should be awash with millionaires. And working at a university, I should be surrounded by them. Unless my colleagues are hiding something from me, I think I must live on another planet than the one Michael Gove is on...