Prof Plimer, who sits on the board of Gina Rinehart’s $10 billion iron ore play, also says Australia should not be scared to embrace “elitism” in education and move to restrict university places.
“We don’t need squillions of graduates coming out each year but what we do need are the best people,” he said, speaking in Melbourne yesterday.
“There is nothing wrong with being an elite Olympic athlete; there is nothing wrong with being an elite intellectual. We don’t need clones.”
In a blistering attack on the modern tertiary system, the University of Adelaide mining geologist said government spending should focus on the “hard sciences” that underpinned economic growth rather than “useless degrees that don’t increase the nation’s wealth”.
“Although degrees in fine arts and politics and sociology may well be important, they are probably brakes on the economy rather than stimuli to grow the economy,” Prof Plimer said.
The prominent climate change sceptic also said irrelevant occupational health and safety regulations were hindering the ability of teaching staff to send students to mines to gain practical experience.Learning had become too narrowly focused on specialist areas and universities were churning out students who lacked a broad education and had little chance of finding work in their study area, he said.“That is the plague we have, the plague of dunces,” he said.
Specialised schools that teach subjects like law or business administration or public administration are not at all a bad thing for those who want such specialisation and have proven the aptitude and desire for the same.
But why must we continue to pretend that subjects like Art History or Social Media are of any real worth, when anyone who has ever had to interview recent college graduates for entry-level jobs can see that they plainly are not?
Let me end this with a personal anecdote. When I stumbled out of my grad school program clutching not one but two pieces of paper that said "Mathematics" on them, I thought I had some useful and desirable skills that would get me ahead in the workplace. Fortunately for me, I was right. What I didn't know at the time was, quite simply, just how ignorant I really was about... well, everything. Despite the fact that I had worked toward a degree designed specifically to place bright people in the financial services industry, I had no idea how the industry itself actually worked. All I had was a set of skills specifically required and desired by that industry for certain positions.
I was able to get ahead because my skills (which at the time were pretty poor, I'll admit) matched what employers were looking for. The rest was up to me to figure out.
Can the same be said of a Media Studies or Communications or Psychology graduate looking to get an entry-level job carrying the piss-bucket at Widgets R Us?
Quite simply, no.
And that is precisely why a university education that is entered into without a specific purpose in mind at the end of it is a colossal waste of time, money, and resources. You would be far better off going to a trade school or starting up your own internet business.
Universities are great places to go to learn how to solve all of the world's problems in your own head- but the reality is that you can learn how to do this on your own time quite easily. And you will gain a far better and deeper education by reading the great works of great minds of the past than you ever will by sitting through the tedious sermonising of some left-wing hack in a lecture hall.
It is high time that we recognised university education for what it really is- a commoditised route to gaining specific skills and experiences that can then be applied to meet specific needs in the labour force or research lab. Treating it as a way to "discover yourself", as far too many universities and students do, is an expensive, utterly ridiculous exercise in futility and self-aggrandisement.