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Students: doing it for themselves

Slowly but surely, we are being asked to do the jobs that we are already paying other people to do.

Drive in to a petrol station, and we fill our own cars up - the phrase "fill her up with four-star please" being nothing more than a nostalgic memory of the days when it felt special to be a customer. Eat in a McDonald's "restaurant" and we clear our own mess away. When we order our food, they ask, in that famous catchphrase, "is that a meal?" - as if we should know.

The local council gets subsidised to recycle our rubbish - but we have to separate the paper from the used beer cans ourselves, without so much as batting an eyelid. Then we are expected to believe the whole lot doesn't end up in a landfill site in China.

And then there's Ikea - motto "stop being so English" - which has cleverly persuaded millions of us into building its furniture for it.

The education system, ever anxious to free up more money for the real business of creating red tape, is catching on to the idea of getting the real work done by people not on the payrol.

The Welsh assembly has got on the bandwagon of getting the customer to do all the work by asking its own students to write the slogan which will help it recruit, well, more students.

Jane Davidson, the Welsh education minister, has been giving out the gongs for the best entries in her so-called "Soundbite" competition - aimed at publicising the delights of lifelong learning.

And the winners are: Elinor Thurgood (11-15 age group) with "Know your rights; reach the heights", Stephen Marshal (16-18) with "Da Rite2 know ur rites" and Patrick Shanahan (19-25) with "Extending Entitlement meant a chance to fulfil my destiny."

Congratulations to all three of them. I hope they didn't sign their copyright away.

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