Where did all the common sense go? - Veterinary Practice
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



Where did all the common sense go?

The Mercury Column, in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around

ASK anyone in the street, and
particularly anyone looking to gain a
place at university this year, and
they’ll tell you that it’s all going to
get a lot more difficult.

Current governmental thinking
suggests that it’s easier to slash great
swathes of cash from university funding
than to seek a more
intelligent approach
to the whole prospect
of providing for the
nation’s future but,
possibly, the answer
lies somewhere in or
around that concept of “intelligence”.

No one doubts
that sending half the
nation’s offspring into tertiary education
is a novel way to massage the
unemployment figures but if, as we used
to think, university will be of benefit to
the top 15% of the eligible populace,
what will become of the remaining 35%
for whom this is a political convenience,
unless, miraculously, doing a degree in
knitting science or goalkeeping will
provide them with gainful employment
when they leave?

Otherwise, this political football
(sorry) will simply bounce back into our
own half after three years and swell the
unemployment figures more
meaningfully and more lastingly. Surely
it must make sense to create
opportunities for hundreds of
thousands of aspirational teenagers
where the end result will be that they
are judged to be fit for purpose and
therefore employable in some skill set
which the country needs.

That, of course, would require our
elected leaders to think forward and to
understand that education and training
should lead to something valuable and

Most of us didn’t see the great
banking crash until it was too late but a
report undertaken in the summer of
2009 showed that the number of
graduates entering the banking and
financial sector had fallen, with a
decrease of nearly 20% for those
entering accountancy and investment

IT-related work and private sector
legal work have also suffered. Cutting graduate recruitment is one step that
many companies have taken to cope
with the recession.

The Association of Graduate
Recruiters (AGR) states that the number
of graduate vacancies has decreased by
24.9% between 2008 and 2009.
Moreover, the number of applications per vacancy has
increased by nearly

Clearly, there are
market factors which
confound the most
capable of planners
and no one can
accurately anticipate
where employment dynamics will vary
over time, but not every bright-eyed student will get a job in media studies or
psychology so why have universities
added to their problems by enrolling
tens of thousands on ludicrously
oversubscribed courses?

With drastically reduced university
funding, anything up to one third of
university placements may be cut and
one can see that those colleges with the
Midas touch will prefer undergraduates
from overseas if they can charge more
for educating them than home-grown

What is most likely, of course, is
that most universities will fall back on
assessing intelligence and suitability for
continued learning through
conventional means.

While that should please the grumpy
old men like me who believe that
university should only be for those who
can meet the more rigorous
requirements for entry, some new work
has come from Canada which shows
that among the attributes which high IQ
scores fail to capture is the human
capacity for making rational decisions.

New Scientist (October 2009) showed
that while IQ scores are hard to change,
RQ (rational decision skills) can be
improved. Indeed, had we known more
about this, perhaps we would have seen
the investment banking sector floating
on the calm waters of RQ rather than
tossed on the maelstrom of financial

If I told you that George W. Bush
had an IQ score of 120+, would you take me seriously? Clearly he was, as he
described himself, “not very
analytical” and having an
IQ that placed him in the top 10% of his countrymen didn’t
immediately equate to intellectual

Keith Stanovitch is
professor of human
development and applied
psychology at the
University of Toronto and
has spent some time
demonstrating that high IQ
may be of little help in
measuring the ability to make sound
judgements in real-life situations.

When I was younger, this was
known as “common sense” before
someone re-invented it and, as the
world becomes more complex, we will
need more of this particular set of skills
simply to navigate through normal life.

“IQ tests determine, to an
important degree, the academic and
professional careers of millions of
people,” says Stanovitch, and he, among
others, challenges their suitability to
indicate how good someone might later
turn out to be in any given profession.

Think more rationally…

If he, and others, are right, our schools
should be actively encouraging pupils to
think more rationally because our brains
use two different systems to process
information: one is intuitive and
spontaneous while the other is reasoned
and deliberative.

There are situations when we need
both and situations where one or other
will be more helpful in dealing with
events and occurrences. While
deliberative processing is a key skill
involved in problem solving, it does
little to help in terms of setting the
problem into an environment where
some recognition is required of how the
additional factors contributed by this
environment may have an effect on the
dynamics of the problem.

IQ measures deliberative reasoning
and the use of working memory but
may be of limited use in assessing a
person’s suitability to do a real job in the
real world.

In a world where the sound bite is
king, some believe that intelligence is about brain power
whereas rational thinking is about control and most researchers have
concluded that there is a weak
correlation between intelligence and
successful decision-making.

A recent study of 360 mature
residents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
showed that regardless of variation in
their intelligence, those people who
showed better rational decision-making
skills fared better in their own lives with
fewer adverse events and a similar,
subsequent, study amongst adolescents
showed that those showing a higher
decision making capacity drank less, took
fewer drugs and engaged in less risky
behaviour overall.

The conclusion suggests that higher
decision-making capabilities may be
more important than intelligence for
positive real-life experiences.

Of course it’s not the only factor
which universities might consider to filter
out the best candidates for a course of
study but it would be useful if more of
them sought some evidence of such a
skill set and particularly so when
selecting students to undertake a
vocational course where much of their
eventual employment will require them
to interact with members of the public
where self-evidently some 85%+ will be
less intellectually capable than those
wielding the precious degree.

Is it too big a stretch to say that that
same 85% may be rather more skilled in
intuitive decision-making than the
vocational laureates and that more
understanding along these lines might
help the next generation of mega A*
veterinary undergraduates find the real-
life execution of the job more fulfilling?

Have you heard about our
IVP Membership?

A wide range of veterinary CPD and resources by leading veterinary professionals.

Stress-free CPD tracking and certification, you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Discover more