12 October 2017
Room for diversification.
By Chin Chin
Some people would carp at anything and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education clearly has more than its fair proportion of naysayers. Their latest target? Essay websites providing material which the student can use to obtain his or her degree or Ph.D. What on earth is wrong with that? The website receives several thousand pounds in cash and produces the essay. The University gets the essay it wants and awards the degree. The student gets the degree and pays the money. Surely everyone is happy? Okay, I can see that it’s hard on the student who has to pay more for a degree than those who write their essays themselves, but that is the price for not bothering to learn to read or write, something tacitly acknowledged by the QAAHE’s recommendation that students be taught academic writing.
It is only necessary to read that recommendation to see the folly in it. Reading and writing, indeed! Why on earth should students have to waste their time on such arcana when they could be forging ahead with their careers? Take the children of foreign political leaders as an example. Yes, it may be a good idea to attend at graduation, an opportunity to be photographed in academic dress with the dreaming spires behind – although nowadays even that could be faked easily enough. Still, to come more often would be nonsense. Who would torture the prisoners in Daddy’s cells? The stability of many countries east of Calais would be severely jeopardised. Then there are those who immerse themselves in student union politics. Endless meetings about unisex lavatories, endless demonstrations about statues of politicians whose history they have not taken the trouble to look up. How on earth are they going to find time to learn to write? It is probably a lack of talent in that direction that pushed them into student politics to begin with.
But it isn’t just these few who are affected. University is about personal development. If students spend their time learning to read and write they will have to cut their activities elsewhere. Less sex, less drinking, less drugs, less sitting about in safe spaces wondering whether they really feel as secure as they ought. Start challenging them with how to write things down and the shock might stop their development altogether. Much better to let the essay factories take their cut and allow everyone to graduate effortlessly in an aura of mutual congratulation.
Now at this point I have to confess to a conflict of interest. The Mr Chin Essay Agency has been rather a profitable sideline and, if I say it myself, has done a great deal of good. Several world leaders have buttressed their authority with degrees which they would not have received without our services and in most cases they have managed to charge the expense to “image”, rather as they might charge the cost of a new military uniform.
It isn’t everyone who could be said to have contributed to world peace in this way. Still, I can see that it’s coming to an end. The QAAHE is determined to do us down and will soon be using computerised programs to work out whether essays are by a particular undergraduate or not. Really, you would think they had better things to do. Caligula made his horse a consul without requiring it to write anything down at all and many honorary degrees are given on much the same basis. Why is it just our clients who should be victimised?
Still, there is no point in railing against fate. A businessman merely has to decide what he will do about the circumstances with which he is faced and in this case there is only one answer: diversify. If we are not going to be able to sell as many essays to students we will have to find other markets. What about personal letters, for example?
It is not an age of letter writing. Most of us do little of it, but have a guilty conscience that we ought to be doing more. What about selling pre-written letters which just need to be signed off by the sender? You would have to fill in a few details, of course. Quite apart from the name and address of the recipient there would be a questionnaire as to their relationship (great-aunt, old friend, mentor, mistress, acquaintance, etc…), the tone required (loving, obsequious, admonishing, businesslike, discouraging, etc….) and subjects of mutual interest. The letter would then be generated with the appropriate platitudes but with one or two gaps for more specific content to be inserted. Things like “I am sorry that I forgot to mention that the cream I sent should only be used externally” or, to someone who will leave you their estate, “I gather expensive foreign holidays are completely passé and everyone is spending their summers at home practising their tennis.”
The letter would then go back to the agency which would, of course, have a specimen of your handwriting. Back would come the final draft realistically smudged and, if you live outside the M25, with a sprinkling of grammatical errors.
From a marketing point of view it would work a bit like a self-drive car. To begin with there would only be a few automatic letters about but gradually the number would increase so that everybody wrote them. Then the system could be augmented. For example once you had described a particular person to the computer it could begin to write regular letters without any further input. If their computer was doing the same, it would be unnecessary for either party to take any action. That, when you think about it, has a philosophical ingredient. When we are dead and buried, our correspondence would roll on indefinitely. Perhaps that is the nearest that most of us will get to achieving immortality.
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