The late stand-up comedian Bill Hicks told a story about the time he visited a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee.

Sitting alone with a book for company, the waitress asked him, ‘What are you reading for?’

Hicks’ response (minus a lot of swearing) was ‘Isn’t that the weirdest question you’ve ever heard? Not what am I reading, but what am I reading FOR?’

He concludes, ‘I guess I read for a lot of reasons and the main one is so I don’t end up being a waffle waitress.’

I was reminded of the exchange this week when I read the news that Sheffield Hallam University are to suspend teaching its English Literature course from the 2023/24 academic year.

This follows a government plan to stop universities teaching so-called ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees – under the scheme, universities need to hit targets for course completion and graduates in jobs or face financial penalties.

It’s true that English Literature currently ranks towards the bottom when it comes to graduate earning power: recent research by Adzuna shows that the average salary five years after graduation is £26,169, with Fine Art and Music scoring even lower.

By contrast, students studying Petroleum Engineering can expect to take home £45,579 on the same metric (I’ll leave you to insert your own petrol price rising joke here).

While I can understand the economic logic behind the government scheme, is the role of universities merely to churn out the skills required for the job market?

Or as Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent, puts it, ‘learning has been stripped of everything but the most utilitarian aims.’

Education, surely, has a wider, deeper purpose than that. If universities stop teaching English, Fine Art and Music in order to churn out the IT workers of tomorrow, then all of us suffer as a society (from an economic viewpoint, it also ignores the importance of our thriving arts and entertainments sector – one of the UK’s success stories).

I can think of countless examples of friends from university who have gone on to work in different areas to the degree in which they studied.

I myself studied politics and philosophy: I didn’t go into that sector, but the skills I learned on how to argue, how to distil and analyse a text have proved invaluable as I’ve worked in writing and publishing.

It’s the same with English courses – learning to think and exposing yourself to different ideas makes you a better employee, wherever you end up.

The Prime Minister aside (Classics, Oxford), the majority of the current cabinet all studied politics or law. One of the few interesting thinkers around the table is Michael Gove. Can you guess what he studied at university?