Regular if not borderline obsessive readers of this blog will by now be aware that we will seemingly always have time for Mel Giedroyc, former co-hostess of the late 1990s cult (and mildly subversive) daytime television show Light Lunch. Giedroyc – who is one of a handful of British celebrities with Baltic origins, roots she happily refers to despite the wave of xenophobia which does so much to define contemporary cultural discourse in the UK – was recently featured in CAM, the (University of) Cambridge Alumni Magazine (My Room, Your Room, Issue 75, Easter 2015), exchanging observations with current student Matt Rees at her alma mater, Trinity College.
The main thrust of the piece was the contrast between Giedroyc’s carefree late 1987 matriculation cohort and their contemporary equivalents: laughter and disaster characterised the former, while the latter is notable for emphasising academic work to the exclusion of everything else. Indeed, the comedienne remarked that the top-down time-based targets promulgated by the university authorities – students are now excepted to put in a minimum of forty study hours per week – is brutally akin to having a (‘normal’) job.
Juxtapositions aside, the real question is surely this: is either approach viable? After some contemplation, we at Mediolana think not. In an era of deep globalisation and spiralling student debt, chaotic, alcohol-fuelled university careers are simply unviable from pretty much every standpoint; however, the reduction of degrees to monotonous, corporate-style programmes is hardly a recipe for economic rebirth, let alone joy. Relentless work regimes are good for medium-term social control – and little else. Nothing less than a total reconceptualisation of academic work is required.