She got her degree by confining her studies to the narrow fields covered in her course , and by preparing for the final exam by paying attention to the very strong hints given out by the lecturers as to what subject the exam questions would cover .
For example , one of the topics covered by her course was Modern China , post 1945 . She could give you chapter and verse on Mao and the "cultural revolution" , but only in isolation .
The Boxer Rebellion , Treaty Ports , The Kuomintang and the Warlords in the 20s , The Opium Wars and Britains role in them , the Different Dynasties , Marco Polo and Kubla Khan , she neither knew ( except at a Ladybird book sort of level ) or cared about ."Thats not part of the course " she'd tell me .
As part of her course , a group of 12 students , including her , had a field trip to Russia . Destination Volgograd .
"That'll be nice for you " says I , " Stalingrad in the Springtime " .
" Oh no , we aren't going anywhere like that ! " she said - didnt even know that it was the same city !
That was 1978 , its got much worse since . The Universities now are just sausage machines for churning out Graduates , but instead of people who had been trained for independence and initiative in thinking , we now produce biddable team players who have been narrowly trained for vocations -- unless you are a well off mature student who can afford to choose their own areas of study .
And the Lecturers at our local , the UEA ( home to the hilarious environmental studies department and its recently banana-skinned Climate Change Unit ) tell me that half of the kids cant write , spell , do simple maths , and have no intention of doing any peripheral reading around the subjects .
Example ; - A first year undergraduate doing Modern Languages with French Literature as their specialism was given a four page copy of a review article on Balzac from one of the French "sunday supplements" magazines - not a high brow thing , just intelligent middle-of-the-road , to prepare for a seminar discussion the following week . The day before he is due to lead off , he turns up at the Lecturers office and says he cant do it , cant they do something shorter and easier .
I suggested she should have tried him with " Baba the Elephant " , which got a wry smile .
" Relax ! No-one else is going to be fool enough to be sailing about in this fog ."